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Liberty and abortion

Abortion is an issue that is only simple for people at the extreme ends of the debate. Many leftists support abortion (and generally wants it to be taxpayer subsidised, of course) on the grounds it is a woman’s right to choose, which is ironic considering the left is dedicated to reducing personal choice in just about every other sphere. In truth I suspect many on the left support free abortion because so many conservatives oppose it.

Religious conservatives oppose abortion because of religious tenets, end of story, and many others oppose it because they feel that it is murder. And that is, of course, the issue. The issue of choice is moot until you deal with the issue of ‘is it murder?’ because we are not free to choose to murder people.

The way I see the debate is this: treating the chemical abortion of a cluster of cells a few days after conception as murder is preposterous (the general Christian position) because a potential person is not an actual person, but treating the abortion of a survivable unborn child a few days before delivery not as murder is also preposterous (yet that appears to be position of some Objectivists) .

Where does a reasonable person draw the line? I really do not know and upon that basis I think abortion should only be clearly illegal (i.e. murder) if it is late term even though I personally find the entire practice abhorrent. I am simply not prepared to support charging someone with murder unless I am certain a person has indeed been murdered. But how does one define a ‘person’? A two day old blob of human cells may be alive but is it a person? I think not but the devil is in the details. It is not an easy issue and as a result I do not regard my own position as fixed on this by any means.

199 comments to Liberty and abortion

  • flintlock

    which is ironic considering the left is dedicated to reducing personal choice in just about every other sphere.

    Not so, the left loves personal choice just so long as it is a choice selected from a menu of politically approved options and, of course, is taxpayer funded.

  • This has always been a problem for me, and I have been a problem for my conservative brethren as well.

    I have never encouraged a woman to terminate a pregnancy, but I’m old enough to remember what women went thru when abortion was illegal. There has to be an element of choice.

    I would hope for a world where every child is wanted and loved but we’re not going to see it. What we see are women who treat abortion like a morning after pill. Making abortion illegal is not the answer. Making abortion unnecessary is.

    How that can be brought about – I haven’t a clue. But I believe with all my otherwise Right Wing Death Beast body that there still has to be a choice available for those who need it or want it.

    Pro choice and Pro gun, weird but there it is.

  • Ring

    In truth I suspect many on the left support free abortion because so many conservatives oppose it.

    Isn’t that the way with most of the leftist positions. They seem to take the opposite end of common sense on every issue. Even when Islamists riot over a cartoon, they still can’t find the common sense to say it is ridiculous and even, to a degree, dangerous.

    Agree on the abortion position, it’s a difficult line to draw, and without it, the middle ground is abandoned to the parties at both extremes.
    Even the point at which a baby can survive outside the mother is blurred since do we need to consider babies that can live with medical help.

    I think motive is also a major factor here. You want to erase a few cells because you don’t want another kid, fine, but to have an abortion on a whim after 6,5 or maybe even 4 months, and I’m going to take exception to that. OTOH, terminating at 6 months for medical reasons, a difficult choice to be sure. A friend recently went something similar at about 3 months. Tough decision, and my wife and I discussed it, and we couldn’t really determine which way we would decide.

    I feel that for the most part, (the extremist part) the abortion issue for women is simply opposition to the idea that ‘men’ think they can order women around. By having the ability to terminate their pregnancy, they are able to exert control, even to the point of being god-like, with the power over life and death, as a way of sticking it to ‘the man’. Pretty sad that the strongly pro-choice folks have to sacrifice thousands of kids simply to get their ‘I’m woman, hear me roar’ freak on.

    As a side note, it’s interesting that the left believes that 13 year olds are competent enough to make a decision about whether to have an abortion or not without discussing the matter with their parents, yet 18,19 and 20 year olds are somehow duped, misled, or stupid enough to join the military.

  • Ron

    For all our children, my wife has known she was pregnant within weeks of conception by the changes (or lack of monthly changes) in her hormones, metabolism, etc.

    I don’t believe she is unusual in that regard. Any woman who reaches the current termination limit (let alone giving birth) without long knowing she was pregnant is either deeply stupid beyond belief, or a liar of the kind who will say she doesn’t know who the father is because “she was leaning out of the window at the time”.

    There is therefore plenty of time even at the earliest stages to decide whether to keep the child – and I can’t believe that sexually active women don’t consider that dilemma regularly, let alone at the eleventh hour of actually being pregnant.

    From a biological point of view, having a wash probably kills more viable human cells than foetal cells that are killed by a morning-after pill.

    Also, from a spiritual sense, it is unclear how a soul can have been said to inhabit a body before the latest time that a clump of cells can wholly separate to create identical siblings.

    On the other hand, killing someone who is fully formed and functional but still within the womb is plainly as much a case of murder as killing someone just after birth.

    Furthermore, survivability outside the womb is in my view irrelevant to the argument, since our hospitals are full of people who would not survive if they were removed from the doctors’ and nurses’ care – and no one suggests that they have any diminished right to life.

    My view is that a foetus becomes a person with the full human rights of life and liberty at the instant that it acquires a working nervous system.

    The fact that this occurs after the first month or so of gestation means that I think that most forms of physical abortion are in fact murder, and so I would like the limit pulled down to 5 weeks at the most.

    This is only made credible from a practical point of view by making pregnancy tests and Morning-After pills as freely available and affordable as chocolate bars, which I’m sure is possible with mass-production and prevention of pharmaceutical profiteeering.

    If this annoys the sensibilities of a few Lefties and the nasty little s**ts that make lots of money out of the abortion industry, then too bad – but in the same way as “If you don’t want to do the time, then don’t commit the crime”, I think that if you can’t cope with being pregnant, then you shouldn’t shag around in the first place.

    “If you don’t manage a bun in the oven, then don’t do the bumpin’ and shovin’…”, or something like that.

  • Howard R Gray

    A thorny issue at best, it is never easy to define the line between the reality of what is clearly a homicide, be it murder or manslaughter, or a moral action in exigent circumstances, whenever an abortion is carried out. That being said, it is curious that the left will support the keeping alive some of the vilest convicted criminal killers but happily sanction the killing an innocent unborn child without benefit of trial. Abortion and the death penalty are both homicides, which is moral or lawful is, at best, a question better dealt with on a case by case analysis. There is no easy ethical answer in so many instances, nor will there ever be. The dividing line between a clump of cells and a human being is just never easy to demarcate either.

    Enter the bioethicist professor, ready to opine on appropriate homicide for social convenience. Euthanasia and eugenics are coming back into the public forum for debate. Killing of “defective” children after, rather than before they are born, may become a matter of debate soon. Will the discourse move on to killing those that don’t fit in or are just not PC? Are we really entering a Pol potty Pot murder fest world? Regrettably the answer is probably we are. Leave it to the intolerant fanatics to bring it on.

    The left have no problem killing unborn children, statist planners, socialist women, inter alia, just don’t want the inconvenience of unwanted children. It might just be that eugenics is never far beneath the surface of progressive leftist politics, it is progressive after all. Programmatic killing may just be coming to a place near you sometime soon, Holland and Oregon are just getting under way with this fine social service.

    However, there still are the simpler ethical issues of abortion after rape, abortion for genuine medical reasons and for the avoidance of back street abortionists. Here we have some grounds for abortion that make sense, but the debate is moving on beyond these simpler issues almost leaving them in the dust.

    Finally, nearly always ignored, is the spiritual rather than religious dimension. A cursory view of the literature on past life regression in hypno-therapy has some curious takes on these thorny ethical queries, but that’s all hooey, or is it?

  • I’m generally supportive of a legal regime of abortion even though I’m not a fan of the practice myself.

    It’s all about the right to life, isn’t it? Most people debate the issue by trying to define life and when it begins. Well, call me stupid but living cells are very much alive aren’t they? They certainly aren’t dead. So it should be no great feat to come to the conclusion that new life begins at conception.

    The debate should really center on who has rights? Well, human beings have rights. Now is fetal tissue a human being? Well, it is human, to be sure, as it is of human origin and will be human. In fairly simple terms, however, it is not “being” so much as it is “becoming.” It does not exist as a fully formed human ready to be, it is in that stage of potentiallity that, barring the unforeseen, will eventually become. And since a fetus exists in a parasitic nature in relation to its mother, so too do any possible rights it might have. If you want to insure a fetus’ right to life then you need to insure the mother’s right to life the same way keeping the mother healthy will insure a healthy child. But since no human being has the right to exist at the expense of another you can’t reasonably expect that a human “becoming” (for lack of a better term) has any more right to exist at the expense of its host.

    Now as for viable fetuses, well that does muddy things. Generally, the same applies. If a mother wishes to abort the parasitic relationship they share, she has every right to. But then you have to redefine abortion I think. If the fetus is ready to go, then is there any need to kill it? If you can pop the bugger out just as easy as sticking a proverbial hanger up there, then I would think the most rational thing to do would be to give birth and pawn it off on someone else who wants it. No more pregnancy, no obligation to care for an unwanted baby, kid gets to have years of psychiatric treatment down the line from learning he was an unwanted child…win-win, I would think. But that all depends on a lot of factors. How good is medical technology and care, cost (its all gotta get paid for, right?)…hell, who would take care of the kid assuming no adoptive parents were lined up? The State? (Sheeiitt!) Well, I suppose the last two are fairly subjective questions and I believe could be resolved easily (think Planned Parenthood would be willing to go into the orphanage business?)

    Well, that’s some of my rambling thoughts on the matter anyway. I’m really no closer to having a definitive answer I suppose. I’ll just be content in teh knowledge that I have no girlfriend and won’t have to be actually needing to deal with this outside of the abstract for a good long time.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    First of all, Perry, I have to say I agree 100% with your statement “In truth I suspect many on the left support free abortion because so many conservatives oppose it”, and have long thought that way myself. The fact that this issue is absolutely one of the top leftist priorities always confused me–until I put it in that context.

    Considering my paragraph above, you may find my attitude strange, and I’m sure many here will find it abhorrent, but I think that a woman should be able to abort up until the moment the baby comes out naturally.

    My rationale for this (which is maybe similar to the Objectivist one, I don’t know their stance on this) is that a baby, even one almost born, is still a blank slate. Yes, there is neural development, and a baby in the womb can actually hear things, and move, and react to stimuli. But they are for all intents and purposes just a body ready to start building their humanity/personality/potential.

    However, a woman is not a blank slate. And if there is something in her body that she does not want, her wishes as a fully formed human take precedence over a blank slate. She can always make another blank slate. And to anyone who says “but that blank slate has potential–what if you were aborted?”, guess what? Every sperm that dies or fails to make it to the egg is a potentially different human. We spill sperm with abondon; why not blank slates?

    I now await my savaging.

  • Manuel II Paleologos

    Anyone who’s seen a 12-week ultrasound scan knows that abortion at that age is wrong. For our first, I went expecting an amorphous blob of cells and saw a fully-formed little fella sucking his thumb and bouncing himself off the walls of the uterus apparently just for fun.

    I agree that in the first stages the cells aren’t really a conscious being, but it really can’t be more than 4-6 weeks.

    But then I’m a Catholic and therefore presumably unable to express an opinion because I must be a bigot driven by “religious tenets, end of story” (please don’t generalise like that).

  • But then I’m a Catholic and therefore presumably unable to express an opinion because I must be a bigot driven by “religious tenets, end of story” (please don’t generalise like that).

    That was not the point I was making and it was not a slight, just a statement of the obvious.

    If you are religious (i.e. you actually take religion seriously as a source of truth), if your religion is opposed to abortion, and you follow the tenets of your religion, then it makes sense for you to oppose abortion. It really is that simple (hense ‘end of story’). It does not make you a bigot, it makes you religious.

    Just because I am not religious that does not mean I think anyone taking a religious view is a bigot… however because I am not religious, I am not prepared to debate the subject on the basis of justification-by-religious-prohibitions (again, so ‘end of story’).

  • Steve P

    Ron: Here in the UK pregnancy tests and contraception *are* as affordable and freely available as chocolate bars. Unfortunately we still have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe.
    Alfred E. Neuman: No savaging here but a question; what about babies born prematurely? Are they human beings or still “blank slates?” If the answer is human being (which I believe it surely must be) then what is the difference between a baby lying in an incubator and a baby at the same gestation period still in its mother’s womb?

  • Jacob

    “In truth I suspect many on the left support free abortion because so many conservatives oppose it”

    I don’t think this is the case.

    The need for abortion arises out of the practice of free sex. The moment you dismiss the religious taboo on sex out of marriage – you need abortion as a corrective remedy. It’s that simple. Both, lefties and libertarians are in the same boat here.

    Of course, abortion was needed and practiced also when the sex taboo was observed, but it was done as an extra-legal procedure, which is a quite common way of letting off steam.

    With modern contraceptives and day-after-pill the problem is less acute, but still you need it as a last resort and also for medical reasons (health problems).

    Supposing abortion is legal until some time in the pregnancy – I don’t see where you can draw a line and justify that line logically and practically. So, there it is: abortion until birth. Late abortions are more abhorrent, but should that make them illegal any more than other abortions ?

  • G

    Liberty without responsibility is meanignless. Every time you CHOOSE to engage in sexual intercourse you are running the risk (this applies to boys and girls) or raising a baby for eighteen years.

    If you can’t handle the possible consequences of your actions, don’t take them – simple as that.

    It’s like you choose to run a business, but you f**k up and get into debt. To navigate the situation you then smother the debtee while he sleeps (coz, like, then he feels no pain, you see, just like a unborn child): problem solved, apparently.

    Every sperm that dies or fails to make it to the egg is a potentially different human

    Quick note, most people don’t believe in the homunculus theory any more.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Reminds me of Dawkins’ essay on ‘gaps in the mind’. (Available online.)

    It’s all about the right to life? Grass and trees are alive. Vegetables are alive. The malaria parasite and the common housefly and ichneumon wasp are alive. Do they have a ‘right’ to life?

    I was once told by a protestor “fox hunting is wrong!”
    “Yes, yes,” I said, “but how are you ever going to persuade the foxes to stop doing it?”
    Predation, disease, myiasis, and nastier stuff; Mother Nature seems not to pause for moral reflections. Life is built on a mountain of dead bodies, and our position near the top of the food chain is no place to talk about a ‘right to life’. You will need to draw your line on a different basis.

    A moral experiment: imagine you suddenly wake up in a coffin to find you are a zombie. Intelligent, aware, hungry…
    You can only survive by eating the living, and will suffer horribly if you do not. Should you do so? If you do, should you make an effort to eat others who prey on others as you do, or innocents? Are any of the options open to you moral ones?
    Now imagine instead that you are born an ‘animal’; a being only able to survive by eating other animals or plants. What is the moral choice now?

    And given that you have made such a choice, and have come to the decision you evidently have (since you are still alive), how can you then agonise for so long over killing a tiny blob of cells too small to see without magnification? And why does the fact they are from a human rather than a chicken matter? (Other than the rather obvious observation that it is humans setting the rules and they’re hardly likely to grant the chicken priority?)

    People make judgements, often based on selfish self-interest, then they try to draw lines around those judgements in thick crayon, and then they try to figure out some rule or law that explains it all. It’s a moral Rorschach test. Everyone’s brain is wired to do it, but you cannot expect others to see the same patterns you do.

    From a pro-abortion point of view, there is a continuous spectrum from right to wrong, with no clearly marked line, no common scale of measurement, no landmarks or signposts. Do you think that by discussing it among ourselves we can find where the line is supposed to be?

    From an anti- view, the line is here. Don’t ask why. There are no reasons. My invisible friend just said. And he can do magic and created the whole universe and, after making that horrible little wasp, has now decided to take the time to set out some rules for his creation. And you’ll obey them, or else he’ll put you in a special universe he created with great effort where you’ll be tortured horribly for all eternity, because that’s the moral kind of guy he is.
    Oh, yeah, and he loves you.

    I have of course, in the best traditions of internet ranting, grossly distorted intellectual positions achieved after decades of moral philosophising, but I hope you’ll understand why I think that both sides on this debate are talking about something that is objectively meaningless.

    Where should we draw the line? Where we want to.

  • J

    Some scary moral-conservative stuff in here.

    I’ve always had a strong intuitive feeling that foetuses aren’t human, which makes the whole matter simple for me. Abortion should have the same legal status as appendectomy. It’s moral status is different, because of the social norms of our society – but then as a libertarian I’m strongly in favour of the state allowing people to disregard social norms.

    I find the moral-conservative notion “if you didn’t want a baby, you shouldn’t have had sex” to be stupid. I can’t see how it’s different to saying to someone with a broken spine “If you didn’t want crippling injuries, you shouldn’t have driven on the motorway”. Modern contraception is good, just like modern brakes and steering are. But it can still fail unexpectedly through no fault of the user.

    Of course I have limited sympathy for someone who has frequent unprotected sex and is then surprised at being pregnant. Just as I have limited sympathy for someone who rides a fast bike in jeans and T-shirt. But I see no reason why abortion should be withheld from the first anymore than skin grafts should be withheld from the latter.

  • Where should we draw the line? Where we want to

    Ok, then how about six week after birth, if I want to? If not, why not?

  • Some scary moral-conservative stuff in here.

    That attitude is always a good substitute for thinking. If you do not base your actions on moral concepts, if I ever have the misforture to meet you I hope you will not be insulted if I keep shotgun pointed at you at all times.

    I’ve always had a strong intuitive feeling that foetuses aren’t human

    And do you ever try to think past your intuition? I would quite enjoy watching someone try to explain quantum theory to you, given its utterly non-intuitive nature.

    So lets say one of these un-human things is aborted a month before delivery… it is cut out of the womb, but it is still alive (it happens all the time). In fact it is so alive that unless it is pro-actively killed or allowed to starve to death, this now separate independent being will develop into a normal child (premature babies do so all the time). Is that not a human? And was it not a human before the knife went in?

  • J

    “but treating the abortion of a survivable unborn child a few days before delivery not as murder is also preposterous”

    Once you rule out the religious arguments, this is the crux of it. But, it all hinges on ‘survivable’.

    It’s not wildly unreasonable to suppose that in 30 years time we will have an artificial placenta. At this point, the entire process from egg to child can be done ‘outsdie the womb’ – so in effect even the clump of cells is surivable.

    Or, if you prefer, imagine Spartan society, where ‘survivable’ was determined some time after the actual birth, either through various endurance tests, or at the opinion of an elder.

    So, ‘survivable’ isn’t really a clear line, which is why I think it’s a bad idea to use that as the basis for what is morally acceptable.

    I think it’s significant that the advances in ultrasound showing later stage foetuses looking and moving like small humans had a huge impact on the debate. I think ‘resembling a human’ is more important than survivability in most people’s moral scale.

    In the end, I view this rather like prostitution. Make what laws you see fit – people aren’t going to stop doing it.

  • Once you rule out the religious arguments, this is the crux of it. But, it all hinges on ‘survivable’.

    No, that is not the crux of it at all. I only used “a survivable unborn child a few days before delivery” as the opposite end of the continuum to a small blob of cells. The crux of the matter is “when does it become a person and therefore have rights?” That really is the only issue of importance in my view, all the rest is just detail.

    I do not intend the following to be an insult but this is how I see you view: “Make what laws you see fit” – Your utilitarian perpective is essentially a sort of ‘immoralist nihilism’ for what of a better description as it is just based upon convenience and power and makes no attempt to reason through the issue of “does this thing we are killing have rights?”

  • michael farris

    Some tenative first steps to see what can and can’t be agreed upon.

    Abortion is not murder. If it were legally considered murder, then logically both the doctor and pregnant woman should both be charged with murder and almost no anti-abortion activist is in favor (in public) about charging pregnant women who undergo abortions with murder. Unless you want the participants charged with murder (including retroactively) then let’s let go of that word.

    A fetus in the 6th month of pregnancy is quantitatively and qualitatively different from a two week old fetus and the range of options for dealing with it should be different.

    Women can and do make principled decisions to care or not for an unborn child and forcing them to give birth does not guarantee care for the child.

    No human society has an unlimited love for children and takes care of all children equally well. When the parents are unwilling/unable to care for their children some societies provide some kind of bureaucratic care as an alternative to abandonment but the level of care for these unwanted children is nowhere close to that given wanted children. Unwanted infants have a good chance of finding surrogates if they’re genetically fit and racially in demand.

  • Alan McCann

    Positing pro/anti-abortion arguments as having religious and non-religious aspects is hooey. Everyone here has stated a religious position based on their own religion – what they see as ultimate in the world (their gods) and how we should live according to that. Even if you come at it from the point of view of “organized” vs “not organized” religions, you are stil hiding reality.

    In reality, you can say that a person believes in a certain religion that is:
    - conscious to them vs. subconscious
    - coherent vs. incoherent
    - self-consistent vs. self-contradictory
    - consistent or inconsistent with their own personal experience

    This group is just too smart to continue to be taken in by the fallacious misuse of the “religion” word

  • Abortion is not murder.

    I do not think we do all agree on that. In fact I would regard aborting a healthy unborn a week before delivery as murder without doubt and would happly vote to convict as murderers both the doctor and mother.

    A fetus in the 6th month of pregnancy is quantitatively and qualitatively different from a two week old fetus and the range of options for dealing with it should be different.

    Agreed. I would regard that as axiomatic.

    Women can and do make principled decisions to care or not for an unborn child and forcing them to give birth does not guarantee care for the child.

    Most certainly. I am not sure it is germane however… ditto for your last point.

  • Positing pro/anti-abortion arguments as having religious and non-religious aspects is hooey.

    It is not that simple. If a religious person comes to his position on the issue via reason, then the person’s religion is really not germane and his arguments stand on their own. I am quite God-free myself but have met many Catholics (for example) with whom I can discuss abortion (or other issues) on a quite rational basis.

    If however a person opposes abortion just because it says so in the Bible/Koran/Necronomicon or whatever, or because his priest says “God hates abortion!” or because God/Cthulhu/whoever came to him whilst praying, then the discussion cannot be about abortion (assuming you can have a discussion at all) but rather has to be about religious doctrines, which is fair enough but not of much interest to me.

  • Agree with most of Alfred E. Neuman’s comment. It’s pretty clear to me that the child is alive and human at conception. In theory, it has rights in the same sense as invalids and coma patients have rights not long after. But the mother’s right to control what happens to her body trumps all of these. Perry writes:

    The crux of the matter is “when does it become a person and therefore have rights?” That really is the only issue of importance in my view, all the rest is just detail.

    Agreed – the rights issue is the only important issue, But I would submit that even after the child is “a person,” the mother’s right to bodily integrity overrides its right to life. Once it is born and no longer in any sense a part of her body, of course, it becomes murder to kill it – but not before.

    This is not to say that we need be sanguine about women who make the choice to kill a child one or two weeks before delivery. I think we are justified in looking upon such people with disgust. All the same, I can’t see a legal basis consistent with a society based on individual rights and freedoms for denying them the right to do so.

    I’m aware, however, that a lot of Libertarians are pro-life, so I’m interested in hearing the arguments for that position from a Libertarian point of view. I’m willing to revise my own opinions on this issue.

  • Ron

    Steve P at October 22, 2006 11:37 AM:

    Here in the UK pregnancy tests and contraception *are* as affordable and freely available as chocolate bars

    Pregnancy testing kits are £6 ($10) a shot in the UK – for a plastic tube with a few chemically impregnated fibres in, with the same manufacturing complexity as a felt-tip pen… I bet there’s a helluva markup on condoms, too. (Dunno about the cost of morning-after pills).

  • michael farris

    “I do not think we do all agree on that. In fact I would regard aborting a healthy unborn a week before delivery as murder without doubt and would happly vote to convict as murderers both the doctor and mother.”

    I had no intention of referring to that particular scenario, let’s say roughly: Abortion in the first half of pregnancy is not murder.

    As for the last point:

    Just as some who are in favor of legal abortion are guided by (real or misguided) concern for women (in the abstract) many who favor outlawing abortion are guided by some (real of misguided) idea that they are protecting children (in the abstract). The reality is that too many children are abandoned and generally most people don’t especially care. Abortion is one way of dealing with unwanted children, gangs of street children in Rio or Romanian orphanage horror shows are another.

  • I had no intention of referring to that particular scenario, let’s say roughly: Abortion in the first half of pregnancy is not murder.

    Still not sure I agree but getting closer :-)

    The reality is that too many children are abandoned and generally most people don’t especially care. Abortion is one way of dealing with unwanted children, gangs of street children in Rio or Romanian orphanage horror shows are another.

    Fair enough, I guess that is a reasonable proposition to make… not that I agree with it however.

    That is what I describe as abortion-as-euthanasia: killing the unborn because their life will not be worth living (i.e. sparing them suffering). The reason I think that does not hold up is that when a patient is in the grips of some ghastly terminal disease and their life is a living hell, euthanasia is only a recognition that there is no chance of improvement.

    However aborting an unwanted child because there is a high probability it will end up a feral street child is a quite different thing. Firstly, if that is justified, why not just gun down the one who do indeed become feral street children (as has happened in Brazil)? Surely that is slightly moral preferable to aborting them because they might have unpleasant lives. That is a fairly alarming line of thought.

    Secondly, there is always a chance an unwanted child will not end up with a grim life and they may in fact through luck or endevour buck the odds and have a perfectly tolerable life. Thus killing an unborn because it is unwanted is at best ‘speculative euthanasia’… mercy killing because it might have a nasty life. That really does not work for me.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Perhaps one day we’ll perfect the iron womb technology, and unwanted foetuses can grow to maturity within them. Not as good as a natural womb, of course, but better than nothing. The woman with the unwanted pregnancy can avoid the consequences(mistake or rape), the social libs can be happy that women get their free-choice(of sorts), and the social conservatives can be satisfied that a life, no matter how small, was not snuffed out. Win-win for everybody.

    As to who should pay for it… well, since the church is so adamant on this issue, they can pay for the iron wombs, the cost of maintaining them, and the cost of raising the children.

    Hmmm… that’s an idea with some rather interesting implications…

  • Pa Annoyed

    “Ok, then how about six week after birth, if I want to? If not, why not?”

    ‘I’? I did say ‘we’, and for a reason.

    As I’m sure you are well aware, the practice of ‘exposing’ infants has a long, long history. You give the example as if it should be ‘obvious’ to anyone that it is wrong, but history demonstrates otherwise.

    You are relying on the fact that we share a common culture that classes it as repugnant to make your point; but that is nurture, not nature – unless you suppose the Romans were wired differently to us. While I myself would also count it wrong, I can still see that it originates in my culture, and can understand and even believe that someone with a different culture could honestly say otherwise. Am I alone?

    Culture is collectively defined. You cannot as an individual change the rules like that – the principle of individual liberty has its limits, even in the most staunch libertarian.
    But as a society? Why not, indeed?

  • Ham

    By having the ability to terminate their pregnancy, they are able to exert control, even to the point of being god-like, with the power over life and death, as a way of sticking it to ‘the man’. Pretty sad that the strongly pro-choice folks have to sacrifice thousands of kids simply to get their ‘I’m woman, hear me roar’ freak on

    For the men who believe abortion is an unacceptable use of female power – Surely you must also agree that if a woman should be forced to give birth to a child she is carrying, the man who impregnated her must also be forced to contribute to that child’s care?

  • I don’t see anything “weird” about Trainer’s view. Being pro-choice on both guns and abortion seems more consistent than being pro-choice on one and anti-choice on the other (whichever way round).

    The issue is not whether abortion is a good or bad thing. The issue is who gets to make the decision. I can imagine cases where I would consider a woman’s reason for wanting an abortion to be frivolous or midguided or even despicable. I can’t imagine any situation where I think she should be denied the right to make that decision.

    The first comment by “J” is spot-on. A lot of the right-wing and especially religious opposition to abortion is motivated, deep-down, by a punitive attitude toward “illicit” sex (hence the “scary moral-conservative” thing). People who get hurt engaging in strenuous activities without proper protection may be dumb, but we don’t tsk-tsk at them that “you knew you were taking a risk” and prohibit medical treatment for them.

    The a-fetus-is-a-person claim is a self-evident absurdity and I don’t think anyone truly believes it, not even those who proclaim from the rooftops that they do — because hardly anyone actually behaves the way they would behave if they did believe it. There are over a million abortions a year in the US. Anyone who truly believed that each one of these is a murder would not treat abortion as just one of several issues on a political agenda. He’d drop everything else and make it his first and only priority, refusing to rest until it was banned, accepting no compromises on the issue for any reason, even supporting or committing violence against abortion doctors (who would have to be considered unwitting mass murderers, if fetuses were truly persons). Except for a few lunatic-fringe terrorists who are roundly condemned by mainstream anti-abortion types, no one acts like this. None of the politicians who claim to think that fetuses are persons behave the way a person in authority would actually behave if he believed there were a million legal murders happening each year. Because deep down they know there aren’t.

  • Surely you must also agree that if a woman should be forced to give birth to a child she is carrying, the man who impregnated her must also be forced to contribute to that child’s care?

    Absolutely.

    Likewise, any feminist who thinks that men should not be allowed to express opinions about abortion or participate in passing regulations about it should also be opposed to forcing men to help care for the children they father.

  • Allan

    If the dividing line between regarding a foetus as ‘human’ or not is its viability, then medical advances mean that we must constantly redraw the legal abortion limit to take account of them.

    800 gram babies born twenty years ago had no chance of survival, unlike today.

  • What I do find bizarre is the idea that a woman having an abortion is somehow engaged in some sort of control-freaky wielding of power over a man, while by implication a man who prevents a woman from having an abortion is just protecting his legitimate self-determination from her interference. Such a grotesque inversion of reality would have made Orwell’s head spin.

  • Manuel II Paleologos

    I suspect we all agree that not all foetuses are human beings; I don’t lose much sleep over losses at 4 – 6 weeks that my wife and I had. However, the argument that a foetus is not human at all until successfully born is equally stupid.

    Therefore there is a point where that foetus becomes recognisably a human. As I mentioned above, you should go and see a 12-week ultrasound scan before you decide that aborting a foetus at this age is OK. The fact that it can’t survive (yet) outside the mother at this age strikes me as completely irrelevant.

  • The fact that it can’t survive (yet) outside the mother at this age strikes me as completely irrelevant.

    I would agree with that. A child cannot survive even after birth without help, so viability is not the issue.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Steve P asked:

    No savaging here but a question; what about babies born prematurely? Are they human beings or still “blank slates?” If the answer is human being (which I believe it surely must be) then what is the difference between a baby lying in an incubator and a baby at the same gestation period still in its mother’s womb?

    I think I actually already answered that, but in case not: once out of the woman’s body, it is an independent being and there is no conflict of rights between it and the fully formed human (woman). That is the difference.

    My view is based strictly on a cost-benefit analysis of who is more important–and therefore whose rights are more important. I believe that a woman, a fully formed human, with a personality created only through years of previous existence, is more important than a blank slate–especially since blank slates are so easy to replace. So her liberty to control her body completely trumps all.

    Here’s a question in return: if you had to make a Sophie’s Choice between a newborn infant or a 15-year-old, who dies? I think you can guess my choice. But I also think most will make the same choice, which would indicate that people do value an unformed human less than a formed one.

  • michael farris

    “I would agree with that. A child cannot survive even after birth without help, so viability is not the issue.”

    That is part of my point about dealing with unwanted children. Adoption is not some magic solution that will work in all (or maybe most) cases when the mother absolutely will not/cannot care for the child. Ultrasound pictures may sway a few emotional types, it won’t influence a woman who’s strongly decided not to bear/raise a child.

    All lip service to the contrary aside most people don’t strongly care about what happens to unwanted children (if they did there wouldn’t be so many of them). Outlawing abortion (to the extent that that would be enforced) will mean creating more unwanted children and no society on earth deals with that particular problem very well. Some do better than others, but no country has a very proud record.

  • A “wisdom of crowds” moment to solve the problem:

    Take a poll. The query is when abortion should be legal.
    T-9months=never–even “emergency contraception” is illegal.
    T-0 = always.

    Take everyone’s response. Average them.

    My guess is that the median and mean will match at around 6 weeks.

    I find that an acceptable solution.

  • Ham

    Likewise, any feminist who thinks that men should not be allowed to express opinions about abortion or participate in passing regulations about it should also be opposed to forcing men to help care for the children they father.

    Sounds like a solid cororally to me.

    If abortion is legal (and I believe it should be, at least in the early stages of pregnancy), either party should be allowed to declare their intent regarding their involvement in that child’s future during the period when abortion is a possibility. A man should not be able to force a woman to give birth; and a woman should not be able to force a man to pay for the child’s upbringing.

  • The foetus makes the transition from potential person to actual person when it develops self-awareness. Without that, it is simply an appendage of the mother’s body.

    Therefore abortion should only be allowed up to that point, whatever the best available scientific evidence shows it to be. That means that the limit would have to be periodically revised as our knowledge improved.

    The religious point of view would presumably be to see personhood beginning when the soul enters the body, but it would be possible to argue that self-awareness could not begin without a soul and therefore that the two events happened together.

    But the questions of abortion and the proper treatment of animals cannot be definitively answered until we properly understand the nature and development of consciousness. So it’s also a question of how we should approach this decision when we are forced to take it on the basis of inadequate information.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Is self-awareness a binary ‘there’ or ‘not there’ property?

    Is a pig or cow self-aware? Is a sleeping child not?

    Latest scientific evidence suggests self-awareness arises about five minutes after drinking the first coffee of the morning. Whether people are souless zombies prior to this is a question I leave to the theologians to debate…

  • I’m surprised no-one has mentioned Rothbard. In The Ethics of Liberty, in which he argues for libertarianism from natural law, he makes an argument something like (I don’t have the book to hand): since a person can not be forced to take care of another person, the mother can not be forced to look after the unborn baby.

    So when Perry says, “The crux of the matter is “when does it become a person and therefore have rights?” That really is the only issue of importance in my view, all the rest is just detail”, what about the rights of the mother?

    If you make abortion illegal at any stage, you’re effectively saying, I am going to force you to look after this person.

    I think the problem with this type of argument is that it’s impossible to separate removal of the baby from the mother from the death of the baby. I’m a bit un-decided about where the lines should be drawn, but the state should be kept out of it as much as possible.

  • As in so many things I think Rothbard is completely wrong. The parents are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and if one of those consequences is a child, they are responsible for the child, like it or not. I find it odd how Rothbardians who value contract cannot see this in those sort of terms.

    If the mother was raped and for some reason did not abort early, a mother’s inconvenience cannot reasonably be weighed against another person’s life. After that the father is the one to be held liable for the child.

    Surely holding people liable for their actions is a cornerstone of liberty, not to mention civil society.

  • michael farris

    “The parents are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and if one of those consequences is a child, they are responsible for the child, like it or not.”

    Okay, but what happens when they don’t / can’t ? (By can’t, I include everything from death of the parents to gross incompetence of the kind that actively endangers the child)

    Whose responsibility is the child then?

  • If they cannot, that is what charity is for… if they will not, that is what courts are for (I see it as essentially ‘breach of contract’).

  • Richard Thomas

    The question to me is “what makes an unjustified killing of someone wrong?” It is not that it hurts them, that could be cured by anaesthetic, it is simply that it takes away their future.

    A “small bundle of cells” has a future. Spontaneous abortions do happen but they can’t be helped and no one is responsible so forget that argument. The question then comes down to “What responsibility does the mother have towards this future human” and “what constitutes unjustified killing of this future human”. My current answers are that if the woman engaged in consensual sex, she has the responsibility to bring it to term and that killing in “self defense” where life or health is at risk is justified.

    Finally remember that a major reason to prosecute murderers is that we wouldn’t want to be murdered ourselves and also that we can project that to the idea that others would want to be murdered either. I don’t imagine many of us here would be in favour of our own selves having been aborted.

    Rich

  • Tedd McHenry

    But the questions of abortion and the proper treatment of animals cannot be definitively answered until we properly understand the nature and development of consciousness. So it’s also a question of how we should approach this decision when we are forced to take it on the basis of inadequate information.

    I, too, see the connection between these two issues, for the same reason.

    There are two qualifications to all rights, it seems to me. One is that they must begin at some point, whether that is the moment of conception or some later point. In other words, we don’t have rights before we exist. The other is that, since we develop as biological beings we “grow into” our rights in the sense that we can’t fully exercise all of them from the moment of conception, but become gradually able to as we mature. Indeed, one of the key political divides is the question of who guards these rights for us until we become competent to exercise them ourselves. The “rightist” position has traditionally been that this responsibility lies with the parents. The “leftist” position has tended to favour this responsibility passing to the state.

    But I disagree with Andrew that, “abortion should only be allowed up to that point, whatever the best available scientific evidence shows it to be.” Since our scientific understanding of consiousness seems to be quite limited (to the point of not even having a generally-agreed-up definition of the term), it seems to me that something akin to the presumption of innocence should apply. Call it the presumption of consciousness. It’s probably prudent to assume, where doubt exists, that a thing is more conscious rather than less.

    It might sound as though I’m arguing a “right to life at conception” position, but that is not so. Like Perry, I’m very much undecided about where we’ve crossed the line from a medical procedure to homocide (or what other stages might lie between the two). But the moral implications suggest to me that we ought to be cautious about drawing that line too late in the process.

    I also realize that tying rights to consciousness opens a pandora’s box with respect to animal rights. There, too, I’m quite undecided, except that I believe that many animals are certainly sentient, whether or not conscious, and that fact might be important in considering what sort of rights apply to them.

  • Julian Morrison

    This is the 21st century! Even talking about “abortion” is an overly narrow view of the debate.

    What does the woman want? She wants rid of the baby.

    What does the conservative want? To save the baby.

    Are these irreconcilable? ONLY IF getting rid of a baby is identical to killing it. Is that unavoidable by definition? No, the baby plus placenta is a distinct, and therefore a seperable, unit.

    In other words: INSTEAD of fighting abortion head on, which is a tar pit and a lost cause (don’t kid yourself), conservatives ought to pour effort and money into the development and clinical testing of baby transplants and artificial wombs.

  • Dave

    PdH: “I am simply not prepared to support charging someone with murder unless I am certain a person has indeed been murdered.”

    but surely the benefit of the doubt should lean towards life?
    Shouldn’t we be unprepared to accept abortion if we are unsure that the fetus is not alive?

    Alfred E. Neuman “My rationale for this (which is maybe similar to the Objectivist one, I don’t know their stance on this) is that a baby, even one almost born, is still a blank slate. Yes, there is neural development, and a baby in the womb can actually hear things, and move, and react to stimuli. But they are for all intents and purposes just a body ready to start building their humanity/personality/potential.”

    #1, no human is a blank slate.
    #2, by your logic it would be ok to kill mentally retarded people who have no personality or potential?

    The reason some libertarians struggle with abortion issues is because your philosophy is based on individual rights, but a pregnant woman is NOT an ‘individual’.

  • but surely the benefit of the doubt should lean towards life? Shouldn’t we be unprepared to accept abortion if we are unsure that the fetus is not alive?

    Oh I am quite sure it is alive from the moment of conception, it just is not a person yet. I certainly think within the first three weeks or so it is clearly not a person. It is after that it starts to be harder.

    but a pregnant woman is NOT an ‘individual’.

    And once the blob becomes a person, it is two individuals, with individual rights. All quite libertarian.

  • Julian Taylor

    Could have fooled me, I could have sworn that a pregnant woman is an individual.

    When you look the abortion issue from a socialist aspect you see why abortion is a “bad” thing for them, since it takes innumerable social workers to oversee an adoption, to oversee the adopting parents in case of abuse and to oversee the birth mother for the ongoing trauma of not keeping her baby – none of which happens if she decides upon an early termination. All in all adoption creates more state-funded jobs which abortion certainly doesn’t.

  • Midwesterner

    Joshua and Perry, I have very busy Sundays but here are some of my conclusions I offered yesterday if someone were to start a thread. If you intend to read it all, get comfortable first. My apologies to those of you who avoid long posts on principle. You have a scroll key.

    Morals must carry the same weight as religion. Religion is ‘just’ institutionalized morality. Collectivised, if you will.

    By whose morals then shall we interact with each other? To quote a phrase from the enlightenment, “By the Laws of Nature, and Nature’s God.” Or, put another way, by scientific observation and reason. If your religion says something to you, it is encumbent on you to prove it by the laws of nature before compelling it on others. We must believe only solid evidence in our interactions with those who believe differently.

    Put another way, no matter how religious or atheistic you are, agnosticism rules.

    There are two general methods of human interaction that we recognize, collectivism and individualism.

    Veiwed from the Collectivist moral code, reproduction (and everything else) is the jurisdiction of the collective. This has been practiced in many ways. China’s collectivist government has taken the authority in the name of the state in an obviously collective way. But at the other end of the spectrum, it is equally or more common that a religion takes that authority by requiring marriage for reproduction, and church approval for marriage. ‘Mistakes’ and the female part of the ‘mistake’ makers were typically sent to convents to be used as the church saw fit. Or more generally, for the benefit of the collective.

    Veiwed from the Individualist moral code, all decisions are taken by the individual. But are they? Do we not all agree on rules that govern our interactions, most commonly ‘life, liberty and property’? So laws are instituted to protect us from each other’s differing interpretations of life, liberty and property.

    Who is eligible for the protection of these laws? Shall we require intelligence? Is a senile person to be intitled to protection of the law? Of course. But there is a root question that is so very uncomfortable to discuss. By individualist principles, does any person have a right to life? If someone is unable to feed themselves, do they have a right to be fed? Isn’t redistributing food to them collectivism? Yes, of course. Will we lock away food thieves to starve? Of course not, the mere act of locking them away requires coordinated property and action. Yet a right to due process of laws is not necessarily a right to life.

    What then? In the most strictly individualist state, the only recourse would be to execute food thieves. And yet even this is inconsistent for that process also requires a group action. While mutual defense is cooperative if not outright collective, the lack of it is anarchy.

    How do we bring consistency to this problem. Simple, government is a contract between individuals. We agree to the terms (or are born into them) and are protected from execution if we are ourselves one day starving. We can do this by providing prisons where a minimum is provided that will maintain a healthy body. And we can assign appropriate penalties that permit us to go out and try again.

    From this debtor’s prison, our present societies have devolved in a collectivist direction with welfare and other more generous and less incumbrancing forms of aid. To summarize this part, we do through our cooperative contract of government take on certain responsibilities for others who may temporarily or permanently be unable to care for themselves. To not provide humane institutions for incarceration would require either torture or execution to prevent even mere food theft. I choose not to belong to a constitution that harsh.

    Back to who is eligible for the protections of law, under our constitutional contract, we have acknowledged that all constituents are. But being born into citizenship of a constitution means many of us may not exactly be sentient.

    So is birth the required distinction? There are those who choose birth or ‘viability’ as a clear dividing between protected or not protected. These two views fall prey to a simple challange. Who is ‘viable’? Set down naked in the middle of unihabited Nebraskan prairie, how many of us would survive? If it happened in the winter, none of us. If it happened in late spring, maybe a substantial minority.

    The key here is that viability cannot be used to determine our ‘humanness’. We are too heavily interdependant and if ability to survive without other humans was the stipulation for protection of laws, then the vast majority would have to join a collective society to survive. Maintaining our individuality in lieu of collectivism is why we have contracts among us.

    I will take a break and digress here. A great many people worry about the unwanted children’s future and their potential criminal behaviour. Certainly this is a legitimate concern about a recognized pattern. But my first thought was much the same as Perry’s. Wouldn’t a 30-06 be a whole lot more selective? I’ve seen precious little talk about the sperm donor in this thread. What if a father wants to have an abortion? Is he to be compelled to be a father against his will while mothers can avoid that fate? Is this strictly a question of in vivo pregnancy? Postpartum, aren’t the father’s and mother’s roles morally indistiguishable?

    And while I’m digressing, I’ve noticed some people here deciding that those who disagree with them are dishonest and don’t really believe what they claim to believe. Seems to me that attack is a concession that there own beliefs are not rationally provable therefore attacking they other person’s integrity is their strongest option.

    Back to the primary thought-line. Is there a distinct time at which an additional human being exists? Humans slough off living cells all of the time, so clearly ‘living cells’ is not a useful feature. ‘Viable’ is also useless as virtually none of us are viable without help from other humans. Emotions, a soul, any number of similar subjective characteristics can also be found or posited in animals with equal confidence. Rational doesn’t cut it. Using that standard not only leads to eugenics, it leads to a government body deciding what constitutes ‘rational’. Oh the horror. There is only one incontrovertible feature that we all have and that no one else has. Unique DNA. (And before you start bringing up genetically identical twins, they are not genetically identical to their parents.)

    In conclusion of the first part of my case, life and humanness begin when the father’s DNA and the mother’s DNA first weave the new and entirely unprecedented DNA of a new person. But all this means is that a new person exists. Not a new ‘potential’ person. But a new person with potential until the day they die. However this doesn’t necessarily mean this new human is ‘entitled’ to anything. That is entirely a function of contracts.

    I’ll end this post here with my conclusion that new DNA includes a right to ‘due process’, but not necessarily life. ‘Means testing’ various recepticles of DNA to see who qualifies as human is a dangerous (if not also humorous) endeavor. I will address how those due process determinations should be resolved in another comment. This one is already far to huge to be intelligible.

    As an addendum, I did chuckle at the suggestion of the ‘wisdom of the crowds”. What could be more collectivist? Is democracy a substitute for our bill of rights?

    An added aside: I’ve just had lunch with a friend of mine who describes herself as (American meaning) ‘liberal’. As in John Kerry supporter, etc. As I had already started this comment before I left, we discussed abortion. She said some things that surprised me. She is pro-choice and anti-abortion. She is disgusted that people think a woman’s choice must be to correct her mistakes. As though a woman is unable to think clearly, plan ahead or have control over what she does with her body. That’s a paraphrase of a long discussion, but interesting, none the less.

  • Renato Drumond

    What’s the clinical definition of human death? Death is the end of the electrical activity in the brain. Why we don’t use the same criteria to define the beginning of human life?

  • The parents are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and if one of those consequences is a child, they are responsible for the child, like it or not. I find it odd how Rothbardians who value contract cannot see this in those sort of terms.

    Well, yes, but…a contract with whom? What does the child agree to give in return? I can (and do) see marriage as a contract, but childbirth is so one-sided. Contracts are agreements between parties, and I can’t see that there’s really a second party here. It’s sort of like buying an apartment complex in the ghetto and opening it as free housing for the homeless. Sounds like a good idea, but then I come to realize that the inhabitants of my charity ward fight over space, piss in the corners, peddle drugs and aren’t making a good-faith effort to find jobs and pay for their own housing. So I decide to sell the building a move on with my life. No doubt there would be a line of leftists willing to say that I had made an implied contract with these people to let them live here indefinitely – but I don’t see on what basis. I would simply be returning them to the state they were in before I came along. Admittedly, it’s a bit cruel – but I don’t see how it’s consistent with a society of rights and individual choice to make me maintain my charity for even a nanosecond longer than I wish to.

    I realize this is an extreme example – but the point is that the woman still owns her body. If, halfway through the pregnancy she realizes she’s in over her head, then I think she has the right to terminate it and resume full ownership over her body. It’s a one-sided “contract” that allows for one-sided “terminations.”

    Of course, we may think her decision irresponsible at best, immoral on average, and monstrous at worst – but I don’t see how we can forbid it and yet maintain that women own their bodies.

  • Midwesterner

    They used to say death was when your heart stopped. But people have lived a long time with no ‘heart’ at all. Just a clicking machine.

    My definition of death is when potential for further activity stops. Using when the brain stops electrical activity will just become one more used-to-work definition when cryogenics comes online.

    Death is going to become more and more difficult to define as technology progresses. Beginning of life is actually much easier.

  • Manuel II Paleologos

    I have to say, this is one of the more intelligent arguments I’ve had over this, perhaps the most emotive of topics (aside from PC vs Macintosh ones). We’re 50 posts in and no-one has yet tried to argue that pro-life arguments are irrelevant because some extremists once murdered abortionists (always the last square in the great Moral Equivalence parlour game).

    I was once on a train in New Jersey at about 1am when this big debate erupted about abortion involving about 20 people. It was such an odd experience (especially for a reserved Englishman) to see drunk people engaging in vigorous and (mostly) well structured debate at such an ungodly hour on the NJ Transit between Newark and Rahway. I’m glad to see that Perry agrees with me that viability is an irrelevant argument, as it’s one that irks me, as it’s one that I won convincingly on that train ride, and as we rarely seem to agree about anything else.

  • Pa Annoyed

    The Precautionary Principle rears its head again, I see.

    The basis of the Precautionary Principle, when we have a high-stakes conflict of interest, is to expound upon one set of potential costs, and suggest that no matter how unlikely, we should tip the scales against it ‘just in case’.

    The appropriate response is usually to reverse exactly the same reasoning on the ignored alternative. Would you permanently ruin a young girl’s life and prospects on a ‘maybe’? Would you put an abortionist in prison as a child-murderer on a ‘perhaps’? Given the gravity of invoking the laws against murder, the emotional weight child-killing holds in our society, are you really ready to apply them in cases of doubt? In short, whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty’?

    The other method is to question how far into unlikelihood we should push it. Panpsychism holds that everything has some degree of awareness – an unlikely sounding theory it might be (and hard to prove one way or the other), but shouldn’t we nevertheless be kind to rocks, just in case?

    The idea that one is depriving some being of its future is a good one, the most coherent yet. But now we have opened up that counterfactual can that would have been labelled ‘worms’ if things had turned out differently. How far back in potentia do you follow the chain of causes? If you hadn’t worn that condom, such and such a child could have been born (either the woman who would grow up to be a scientist and cure cancer/AIDS/malaria/etc., or those tedious cliches about Herr and Frau Schicklgruber). If you hadn’t advocated abstinence before marriage, if you hadn’t brought down that commandment about fidelity from the mountain, etc. (Sings: # Every sperm is sacred, # every sperm is great, # if a sperm gets wasted, # God gets quite irate #…)
    Ahem… And how far into the future do you trace consequences? The child? Its children? Its descendents for a hundred generations? The problem with counterfactuals applies to all moralising from consequences, not just abortion, and there are answers to it, but the correct conclusion to it all is not clear.

    And on what basis do you point to conception as the threshold moment? Is the rest of the process only inevitable from this point on, and not a moment earlier? Is this the last point where randomness intrudes? Is the DNA sequence now taken to be deterministic of who that person is? No, of course not. It is just one step in the process, no more or less significant/necessary than many others. We celebrate our birthdays and count our ages from the day we were born, not the day we were conceived.

    When there are no clear answers, conception is as good a threshold as any other; but I would say there are no clear answers nevertheless.

  • Midwesterner

    No amount of sperm is human without an egg.

    No quantity of eggs are human without sperm.

    Potential is nothing until they combine, everything afterward.

  • Midwesterner

    To clarify, all the sustenance in the world won’t cause a sperm to grow into a human.

  • G

    Have you ever heard a woman saying “whoa feel this, my inhuman foetus is kicking”?

    Of course when you decide getting rid of someone is convenient, it’s easy to claim that they are not human. History has many examples, it’s not even necessary to invoke godwin’s law.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yes, but the combination of sperm and egg in the same fallopian tube is as good a guarantee just before the combination as after. Just because they are a connected volume of space afterwards does not affect the causality of the situation.

    And a fertilised egg is not a human without a womb. And a functioning woman attached to that womb. And the egg must implant in the womb (most don’t), and have enough time to develop, and appropriate medical care, and a birth, and subsequent care and education before it becomes a functioning human being. And other conditions ever more obscure.

    You can take any one bit out to show that the result doesn’t work, and conclude that that one bit is therefore the essence of the whole process. Or take any one bit in isolation, show that it is insufficient on its own, and conclude it is therefore insignificant. True, a sperm on its own is not a person, but we were talking about potential. A sperm spilled rather than used to fertilise an egg is a potential future removed. That was the original argument in favour of the fertilised ovum, I’m just saying the same logic applies at any step of the chain of causality.

  • … it’s not even necessary to invoke godwin’s law.

    Alright, I won’t think of a pink elephant, thanks for the advice.

  • Pa Annoyed

    On the point of deciding whether something is human or not, does anyone have any thoughts on the HeLa cell line? The living Henrietta Lacks, or just some cancer cells?

  • Midwesterner

    And a fertilised egg is not a human without a womb.

    As your whole case rests on this, I would imagine you can make a conclusive case.

    the combination of sperm and egg in the same fallopian tube is as good a guarantee just before the combination as after.

    No sir, it’s not. The sperm is purely male material. The egg is purely female material. They are nothing more than this until they join. Then, and only then, does something exist with the potential to grow up.

    My case is that nothing exists prior to combination that is anything other than material from a male or a female.

    Sperm does not have the potential to grow up. It only has the potential to find an egg.

    An egg does not have the potential to grow up. It only has the potential to find sperm.

    You cannot find any potential for growth until those two things cease to exist and take a new form.

    All other phase changes in the process of reproduction are of location, or sustenance, or complexity. This is the only point at which an essential change takes place.

  • Midwesterner

    They are hers. And should be treated as such to the best of the law’s ability.

  • woah dudes, this has gotta be the most calm no nonsense thread on the BIG A i have ever see in my life on the internet!

  • ausblog

    Something for Pro-choicers and Pro-lifers to concider…..

    World estimations of the number of terminations carried out each year is somewhere between 20 and 88 million.

    3,500 per day / 1.3 million per year in America alone.

    50% of that 1.3 million claimed failed birth control was to blame.

    A further 48% had failed to use any birth control at all.

    And 2% had medical reasons.

    That means a stagering 98% may have been avoided had an effective birth control been used.

    I am a 98% pro-lifer, 2% Pro-choicer, who has no religious convictions at all . I didn’t need the fear of god or anything else to come to my decision, just a good sense of what is right and wrong.
    You see we were all once a fetus. Is it beyond the realm of possibilities that when your mother first learned she was carrying you, she may have considered her options? What if she had decided to terminate? Would that have been OK?
    You would not exist, if you have children they would not exist, and your (husband or wife) would be married to someone else. You would have been deprived of all your experiences and memories. In this day and age with terminations being so readily available and so many being carried out, if you make it to full term you can consider yourself lucky.
    Lucky you had a mother that made the choice of life for you.

    Don’t you think they all deserve the same basic human right, LIFE?

    At the point of conception is when life began for you. This was the start of your existence. Your own personal big bang. Three weeks after conception heart started to beat. First brain waves recorded at six weeks after conception. Seen sucking thumb at seven weeks after conception.

    I am convinced that in the not too distant future, people will look back at many of the practices of today with disbelief and horror.

  • ausblog, is there an argument hidden in there somewhere or just a declaration that you don’t like abortion? Many of the people here have stated that a tiny clump of cells a few days old ain’t a person and I find that hard to argue with. If you’re going to convince anyone otherwise you’re going to have to put down your harp and tell us why.

  • Agree with Jack of Hearts – there is no argument here.

    You see we were all once a fetus

    Yes, and we were also once a separate egg and spem cells – that sperm cell one of millions. What if another had reached the egg first? What if, what if. If ifs were fifths…

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    I don’t have a lot of time but I want to try and concisely state what I and people who seem to agree with me (such as Joshua) believe.

    1. No one can seem to determine, or at the very least agree on, when a fetus becomes an individual, and therefore deserving of individual rights.

    2. We can determine, without question, that a woman is an individual and deserving of individual rights–including complete control of her own body.

    If we compare 1 and 2, only 2 can be determined absolutely. Therefore option 2 must be the basis for any decision, and that decision is that the woman has total control of her body at all times. This would then allow her to abort anything in her body, at any time.

    That’s about as concise as I can make it. I hope it helps some understand this viewpoint.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve yet to hear anyone name a definable transition point for beginning humanness. Everything I’ve heard so far are nuanced feelings that can be summed up as “Early term fetuses don’t seem human. Therefore they aren’t.”

    Like you, early term fetuses don’t excite my passion in their defense. Many other things don’t excite my passionate defense either. But the rational process establishing moral principles and applying them consistently does.

    I have chosen the creation of new DNA as origin by a rational process and defend it for its merits. I don’t see how another point can withstand any challange without resorting to subjective judgements. If you have something, please name it. If it is something I’ve already considered and rejected I’ll say why and adjust if your counterpoints show me to be mistaken.

    I have named a clear and unique division point.

    Only our DNA is unique. It is formed in moments. We carry it for our entire life in its original form. Nobody shares it with us.

    We are only related by half to either parent. We are only related by half to our children.

    Our DNA is us. Everything else is either incrementalism or literally a matter of circumstance not substance.

    Our entire lives become a question of when our rights and other’s rights infringe each other. This is not what I am discussing here. It is when does a human being become entitled to recognition as one?

    On a general note applicable to all matters, we have all lived by different standards in the past than we do now. If our choices in the past were made in good faith with our best understanding at the time, then that is all we can have done. If we were to refuse to change our standards in order to avoid a newfound discomfort with our past choices, then we would be living a dogma, locked into preserving the very things we may most wish to change. We would be forced to defend our regrets, not champion our discoveries.

  • Renato Drumond

    “Only our DNA is unique. It is formed in moments. We carry it for our entire life in its original form. Nobody shares it with us.
    (…)
    Our DNA is us. Everything else is either incrementalism or literally a matter of circumstance not substance.”

    And what about identical twins?

  • Midwesterner

    I didn’t think anyone would be so disengenious as to construe equivilency between identical twins born together and the possibility of two strangers walking down the street sharing identical DNA. Or even siblings for that matter.

    For those extremely rare cases where it matters, here is one case for you to consider.

    I do not think these cases, while legitimate causes for debate, have any bearing on the merits of DNA as an indicator of humanness.

    If I am wrong, please explain your rationale.

  • Renato Drumond

    Midwesterner, identical twins are twins originated of the same zygote. The conjoined twins are a particular type of identical twins.

    The question I want to introduce is simple: since we have cases of different human beings that have the same DNA, the formation of DNA isn’t a good indicator of individidualization.

  • If we compare 1 and 2, only 2 can be determined absolutely. Therefore option 2 must be the basis for any decision, and that decision is that the woman has total control of her body at all times. This would then allow her to abort anything in her body, at any time.

    That does not quite work for me. Certainly a woman is an individual, no argument there. Certainly we cannot agree when a person becames a person… but those of us who think we become a person at some point during the pregnancy feel that at THAT point (whereever it is), the woman is not the only individual involved and therefore from that point onwards there is not reason for her interests to pre-empt the other individual involved, particularly to the extend of giving her power over life and death.

    Although we cannot agree where that point comes, many of us agree where it does NOT come (i.e. during the blob-of-cells stage). Up to that point I have absolutely no problem with aborting… after that I get increasingly concerned. I do not know where I would draw the line but I know where I would not draw the line.

  • ausblog

    egg + sperm = Human Being.

    At the point of conception is when life began for you. This was the start of your existance.
    Your own personal big bang.
    Three weeks after conception heart started to beat. First brain waves recorded at six weeks after conception.
    Seen sucking thumb at seven weeks after conception.

  • Oh dear.

    Just a bit of constructive advice, ausblog me ol’ mate: “if at first you don’t succeed, simply repeat what you did before” is not a strategy likely to win you many converts. It’s not really a strategy at all in fact.

    Try, for example, coming up with an explanation why having no personality whatsoever and not enough complexity to have any emergent properties, still makes you a “person” a week after conception. Maybe you have an explaination why that should not matter that I have not thought of.

    Just because something will be something else later, that does not make it that thing now. As it stands, I see chemically aborting a 3 days old embryo about as significant as popping a big pimple on my arse.

  • Julian Taylor

    Clinically I gather that a foetus is defined when the embryo has formed most major body structures – usually defined as ten weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period.

    Try, for example, coming up with an explanation why having no personality whatsoever and not enough complexity to have any emergent properties, still makes you a “person”…

    Works ok for Robert Fisk – so why not for an embryo?

  • Ivan

    For what that’s worth, this is probably the best essay on the topic of abortion I’ve ever seen:
    http://www.friesian.com/abortion.htm(Link)

    The author presents a very dispassionate analysis of the issue from a libertarian standpoint. Highly recommended.

  • herod

    then what is the difference between a baby lying in an incubator and a baby at the same gestation period still in its mother’s womb?

    Intent.
    The parents of a baby in an incubator are intent on the survival of their potential (accounting for success rates) child, the parents wishing abortion are intent on the non-survival of their potential child.
    Just because medical technology has advanced to a degree that allows those who wish their child to survive after premature birth, at a level of development where the child would die without such intervention, should not be used as an argument against those who have no desire for a child.

  • Ivan

    Perry de Havilland:
    As in so many things I think Rothbard is completely wrong. The parents are responsible for the consequences of their actions, and if one of those consequences is a child, they are responsible for the child, like it or not. I find it odd how Rothbardians who value contract cannot see this in those sort of terms.

    I am not a Rothbardian, but the point about contracts should be equally applicable to anyone who could be reasonably called a libertarian — assuming of course that this argument has any validity in the first place.

    In practice, postulating such implicit contracts usually leads to intractable problems. What is the content of the contract to which one supposedly consents by the act of creating a child? What exactly is one obliged to provide? Until what age? And how is the government supposed to enforce these obligations without implementing an all-pervasive surveillance infrastructure of the kind that you often criticize on this website?

    Perry de Havilland:
    If the mother was raped and for some reason did not abort early, a mother’s inconvenience cannot reasonably be weighed against another person’s life. After that the father is the one to be held liable for the child.

    The principle of paternal liability also turns out to be a nasty can of worms once one starts to examine its practical implications. For example, the current regime is grossly unfair in the sense that the father has no say whatsoever over whether a child will be aborted, but he is held responsible for it once it’s born. But what would be a feasible alternative that doesn’t imply either relinquishing the principle of paternal responsibility or empowering the father to effectively enslave the mother for the duration of the pregnancy?

    Your example of rape is also interesting — I have the impression that you haven’t really thought about its full implications. Who is supposes to be liable for supporting the child in this case, if the mother cannot be held responsible for the whole problem, and the father is behind bars (necessarily, if he’s ever identified)?

  • ian

    I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone has picked up on Perry’s telling argument against the idea that the time of conception is the ‘line’ – What happens when a foetus divides to form identical twins? If you believe in souls then presumably the souls cannot be present before that point unless you think that your god magics another one into existence at the time of the division. The same argument applies to consciousness. If a foetus is conscious at that point what happens afterwards?

  • but those of us who think we become a person at some point during the pregnancy feel that at THAT point (whereever it is), the woman is not the only individual involved and therefore from that point onwards there is not reason for her interests to pre-empt the other individual involved, particularly to the extend of giving her power over life and death.

    In other words, her body becomes a means to this other individual’s end, and she is forced to relinquish control over what happens to it. This despite the fact that the individual in question has hardly begun to exist and does not yet have a fully-formed personality.

  • Ivan

    ian:
    I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone has picked up on Perry’s telling argument against the idea that the time of conception is the ‘line’ – What happens when a foetus divides to form identical twins? If you believe in souls then presumably the souls cannot be present before that point unless you think that your god magics another one into existence at the time of the division.

    I would say that if one accepts the belief in God and the transcendental human soul in the first place, it is trivial to answer arguments such as these. Why couldn’t the souls of both twins reside within a single cell before it splits to form identical twins? “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

    For what that’s worth, here is an in-depth discussion of some of these issues from a Catholic perspective.

    By the way, you seem to be confusing the notions of zygote, embryo, and fetus.

  • alvin lucier

    *looks up* I haven’t seen as many sweeping generalisations since I was at the Janitorial Convention.

  • Jacob

    “Seen sucking thumb at seven weeks after conception.”

    Ok. Let’s legislate that this is the moment a person becomes a person.
    Before an abortion the woman has to make an ultrasound, and if the foetus is seen sucking thumb then the abortion is off.

    There are two clearly defined points: conception and birth. I don’t see where you can find a clearly defined middle point.

  • In other words, her body becomes a means to this other individual’s end

    Manifestly and objectively true. She is also an incubator-on-legs without which the child cannot exist.

    and she is forced to relinquish control over what happens to it.

    If the other individual has a right to exist because it has grown to the point where it does have a right to exist, then she does not have a right to end that existence… so yes.

    This despite the fact that the individual in question has hardly begun to exist and does not yet have a fully-formed personality

    The issue is only indirectly how long has it existed or how formed is its personality is… the direct issue is is it a person yet? If it is not a person, it is just the property of the mother, if it is a person, it has rights in and of itself that are not the mother’s to abridge.

    I have no problem if the mother chooses to to abort when it is clearly not a person. One day after conception, I think it is clearly not a person. One day before delivery, I cannot see how it is any less a person that one day after delivery. As soon as it becomes a person, its life surely weighs more heavily than the mother’s transitory convenience or dignity.

  • If it is not a person, it is just the property of the mother, if it is a person, it has rights in and of itself that are not the mother’s to abridge.

    Yes, and the mother has rights that it may not abridge as well – such as the right to determine what happens to her body.

    One day before delivery, I cannot see how it is any less a person that one day after delivery.

    Correct – it is just as much a person the day before as the day after. The crucial difference is that it is no longer in the mother.

    As soon as it becomes a person, its life surely weighs more heavily than the mother’s transitory convenience or dignity.

    No, it doesn’t – and that is because no person may demand that another person exist as the means to their ends. They may bargain for services etc. – but they may not require it.

  • Sorry Joshua but I think that it is nonsensical to rank a mother’s right to convenience higher that the right to a child’s life. If the mother did not abort before it grew to the point it was a person, she must accept her right to convenience cannot now come from killing someone whose existence she acquiesced to. If she did not acquiesce, all she had to do was abort whilst all she had to deal with was ‘property’.

  • G

    For the Objectivists, or those who think similarly:

    If it is illegitmate to make a woman a slave to her unborn baby by forcing her to keep it, should mothers be allowed to leave their newborn babies to starve to death as long as they don’t actively infringe on its rights, say, by smothering it? Is the assumption, common to all civlizations which are not totally beyond the pale, that infanticide is wrong, in fact advocacy of *slavery*?

  • Midwesterner

    Renato,

    I’m not understanding how twins sharing their DNA disqualifies the formation of that DNA as their beginning. If anything, it seems to be an experimental proof of it in that the only other person on the planet to match their DNA shared that occurance with them.

    To clarify an earlier answer to I’ve forgotten who, HeLa is the owner of her DNA. She (or her designated heirs) should be receiving royalties and her consent should have been gotten first. If researchers don’t like us owning ourselves, let them use their own DNA.

  • Sorry Joshua but I think that it is nonsensical to rank a mother’s right to convenience higher that the right to a child’s life.

    I guess I don’t think of it as a right to “convenience.” It’s a right to bodily integrity, which is fundamental to any free society.

    If the mother did not abort before it grew to the point it was a person…

    Yes, but when is that point? We’re still waiting for a satisfactory definition. All we’ve got so far are various people’s intuitions that may or may not overlap in useful ways. Doesn’t seem a sound basis for making laws. Fine, you can say things like “it’s a person the day before it’s born for sure,” but no one knows exactly when that day is. Labor just sort of starts when it starts, you know. The day before the day before it’s born it’s also presumably a person, and so on. We can keep this up all the way back to the moment of conception, of course, but at some unspecified point along this road it will have turned into a ball of cells. The definition of “personhood” will have to be arbitrary, in other words. Whatever line you and the legislators end up drawing will have limited justification, will be open to all kinds of nitpicking. Meanwhile, the woman’s right is present and obvious throughout. That means you have to meet a burden of proof to violate it, and appealing to people’s intuitions about when a foetus is a “person” doesn’t seem sufficient.

  • Midwesterner

    Soak the rich.

    For poor people to be paying taxes as long as there are rich people is unconscionable. How much wealth does anybody really need? There must be some point below which a person isn’t taxed and gets to keep all of their assets.

    This is the kind of fuzzy thinking that results when knowledge precedes reason.

    Since before they had a name, socialists have looked at rich people and poor people, seen an obvious difference and reached for solutions without asking fundamental questions.

    People who otherwise think clearly, seem to easily fall into that same trap. How much body/mind does someone need before they get to keep it?

    It’s a distinction without a difference. There is a reason why a socialist can never find the right answer to “What do we really need?” There is no right answer to an impossible question.

    There is a reason why we can’t answer the question “How much development = alive?” There is no right answer to an impossible question.

    It is part and parcel of objective thought that subjective answers are no substitute when objective ones are available. Jacob stated it clearly. These are the only two objective distinctions available. I have decided that birth doesn’t work and is actually subject to too many interpretations. So I’ve chosen new DNA.

    Nobody has yet moved beyond “It doesn’t look human. Therefore, it isn’t.”

    Please, Perry, Joshua, any others, just give me any objective non-interpretive marker. Somebody said “a central nervous system”, shrimp have those. Somebody jokingly said “sucking a thumb”. Hard to argue with but at least it’s something.

    When people have this much trouble reaching a conclusion, there are only two possibilities I know of.

    One. They don’t like the one they get and so keep looking.

    Two. They are not breaking the question into small enough pieces.

    I’m not locked in iron on this. I’m open to having my mind changed. But outside of a couple questions from Pa Annoyed and Renato, I’ve heard nothing but “Think of the children.” or “Think of the mother.”

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Joshua has been handling our side (if I may be presumptuous enough to group us together) of the argument nicely, but I wanted to add to his answering of your “convenience” point, Perry.

    Since when is a fundamental liberty (control of your own body) a “convienience”?

    First of all, carrying a baby isn’t a walk in the park. It’s essentially a parasite, for all biological intents and purposes. That’s not an inconvenience, that’s a drain on your body.

    Secondly, Perry, if some drug warrior said that you shouldn’t complain about not having the “convenience” to put whatever chemicals in your body that you wished because it was for the good of society (or the NHS’ budget), you would rip their head off and shit down their neck (metaphorically).

    You cannot abridge a fundamental liberty on guesses. And that’s what you’re doing. Guessing at defining (not even knowing, just defining) when something should be assigned the status of an individual–and you want to do it while it is still using someone else’s body, at that.

    Why are so many people determined to assign rights as early as possible to something that is barely formed at the expense of a truly and fully formed human?

  • Joshua has been handling our side (if I may be presumptuous enough to group us together)

    You may, and thanks for filling in the details on the difference between a right to determine what happens to one’s body and the “right” (actually nonexistant) to convenience.

    Please, Perry, Joshua, any others, just give me any objective non-interpretive marker.

    I thought I had. The child is human at conception; I made that clear in earlier posts. But Perry is right that in some sense that question is beside the point. The question is who has what rights, what conflicts between rights are there, and in whose favor do we resolve such conflicts?

    I have chosen birth as my distinction, as opposed to conception, because it is at this point that the woman’s right to determine what is done with her body becomes irrelevant. Once the child is separate, we can deal with questions of preseving its life without having to require that her body be put to any uses she doesn’t approve.

  • Duncan

    I pose the following question:

    Without falling back on the premise that God, god(s), somehow make humans inherently “better” than any other species on the planet, how can one be morally against abortion, but be ok with the killing of any animal. For arguments sake and not to be silly, lets say animals of a higher order of intellegence.. apes, dolphins.. even say horses which are fairly intellegent. Other than a preference for our own, how can one be outraged at the termination of something with basically no history, real memory or experience or rational thought process, but be ok with the eutheasia of an a animal that clearly exhibits some if not all of these things.

    For the record I’m pro-choice, not comfortable with late term, but not willing to out-law it, and have no issue with shooting animals for fun and or profit.

  • Jacob

    “but be ok with the eutheasia of an a animal that clearly exhibits some if not all of these things.”

    We are talking about a human being terminating (or not) the life of another human being.

    The right to life is the right of a human to life.

    Animals are not human.
    The question of animal rights if off topic, let’s leave it for another day.

  • Since when is a fundamental liberty (control of your own body) a “convienience”?

    Many liberties are a convenience. It does not make them unimportant.

    Let me make some contentions:

    1. by conceiving the child and not aborting it before it became a person, I would argue you have by your actions given consent for the ‘use of your property’, to wit, your body, to the the child.

    2. Although your body is still your property, it does not seem reasonable for your rights to over ride the rights of the person inside you, given they are there by your consent. For example: unless a tenant is guilty of some malfeasance, if you contract to rent them a room for 9 months, once they have moved in in good faith, you cannot on a whim turf them out without breaking the contract and thereby violating their rights. That does not make the leased property any less your property just because someone else is living there, but by your own actions you have assigned rights to another person within your property for those nine months that are not yours to break.

    I am sure you can see where I am going with this.

  • Duncan

    I’m not arguing animal rights, though you sort of pared it down to that. None the less I think this has some bearing on the issue.

    Impying that humans have inherently more right to life, in some ways is one leg of the abortion argument.

    My point was to show how subjective it really is if you don’t resort to religious reasons.

    I personally think we don’t inherently have some greater “right to life” other than the fact, we as humans value us on top of evertyhing else (and reasonably so.) We decide that killing each other is generally bad, and that we, for the most part, agree that we all have the “right” to life. But this is a right of our own creation because we all basically want our own right to life and therefore are willing to agree that all should have it.

    I honostly don’t see why terminating a pregnancy should be any more horrifying than terminating anything that exhibits intellegnce, other than an emotional repsonse to the fact it’s your own species.

  • Allan

    Why are so many people determined to assign rights as early as possible to something that is barely formed at the expense of a truly and fully formed human?

    Posted by Alfred E. Neuman

    If that fully formed human wished to amputate her own perfectly healthy arm, or remove her own kidney, ‘society’ might deem her insane, ar at least a danger to herself.

    And if she then demanded that the state pay for the operation…

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Perry, I don’t think your contract metaphor holds up, for two reasons. First, the pedantic one:

    1. (in an actually free society) I can have a nine-month contract with a tenant that states that I can evict them at any time for any reason. Anyone who engages freely in that contract is aware of this.

    2. That leads to the much more important fact that the fetus is not a conscious, sentient actor engaging in a contract. The fetus is not capable of entering into a contract because it can’t even think. So there is no “tenant” here–only a “parasite”.

    Finally, you state “by conceiving the child and not aborting it before it became a person…” Wait a second. When did we settle on the definition of when it becomes a person?

    You just went from step one to three without defining step two–which I thought was one of the things you were interested in trying to define in the first place.

  • I am sure you can see where I am going with this.

    Yes, and it makes sense. But there is an important sense in which this analogy doesn’t hold, and that’s that you have a verifiable legal contract with the lessee, who is clearly a person of the same legal status as yourself. The question that hasn’t been answered about the foetus to anyone’s satisfaction is what legal status it has, and when it acquires this status. As Alfred E. Neuman nicely put it – you’re abridging a fundamental liberty on guesses. It’s fine for hypothetical imperatives involving your personal opinion of the woman and her actions to say that you are “pretty sure” the child is a person after “roughly the second trimester” or whatever else, but you cannot deny someone control over their body on this basis. It’s sort of the same way we wouldn’t want to enforce a verbal contract about renting an apartment – the legal status of such a contract is uncertain. Maybe I promised a person he could stay in my apartment for 9 months, and he moved in without siigning a contract, and then I changed my mind (let’s say because someone else offered me more money for it). I order this person out, he refuses, and… I’d say the law should side with me. It is, after all, my apartment, and though an agreement of some kind was reached, and it is certainly not nice for me to kick this person out, legally we would have to go with the owner in this case because we don’t want a society founded on such an indeterminate basis as verbal contracts. The fact that I gave him the key doesn’t give him the right to set up shop in my place without my permission, even if that permission was given and then revoked, and even though it was certainly unwise for me to give him the key without hammering out a real agreement. “Legal status unknown, but we have a good guess” isn’t the same as “here’s a signed contract, eat it!”

  • (Apologies – didn’t hit preview and thus didn’t see Alfred’s post until I had already submitted mine. It mostly repeats his points.)

  • ian

    Many people in this comments thread have called for a definition of the point at which a foetus becomes ‘human’. I think the point is that there is no answer which stands up in an absolute binary choice sense. We can choose at any particular time to define it as 12 weeks, 24 weeks or whatever but that remains open to challenge in the light of scientific knowledge, shifts of opinion, you name it. A drawing of the line is no more than that – it represents no abolute truth. Sometimes there are no answers except a call to your god – an answer I reject but others don’t.

  • Jacob

    As ian said.
    Yes, you could reach any pragmatic compromise (12 weeks, 18 weeks, 24 weeks) and make it a law via the democratic process (majority rule).
    Such a compromise would be reasonable, as long as it is accepted by a good majority.

    What seems impossible is – to draw the line based on basic principles and facts. Which is what we are interested in.

  • ian

    Someone posted a link to a site setting out the Catholic Church position. As a counterbalnce here is one from Steve Kanga’s Liberal FAQ site.

    http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-personhood.htm

  • Ivan

    ian:
    Many people in this comments thread have called for a definition of the point at which a foetus becomes ‘human’. I think the point is that there is no answer which stands up in an absolute binary choice sense. We can choose at any particular time to define it as 12 weeks, 24 weeks or whatever but that remains open to challenge in the light of scientific knowledge, shifts of opinion, you name it. A drawing of the line is no more than that – it represents no abolute truth. Sometimes there are no answers except a call to your god – an answer I reject but others don’t.

    The disturbing truth is that this line drastically varies between societies and cultures, and in many cases it is drawn well after birth. It seems to me that this is indeed one of those issues where full-blown moral relativism is the only rational conclusion that can be drawn from observing the attitudes and practices prevailing in different human societies.

    Historically, infanticide by abandonment has been widely practiced (and in some places still is). Such practice seems abhorrent to most contemporary Westerners, even those who are staunch proponents of the right to abortion. However, I honestly see no relevant difference between arguing that one cannot force the mother to host an unwanted being inside her body and arguing that one has no right to force the parents to support an unwanted infant.

  • Ivan

    Alfred E. Neuman:
    First of all, carrying a baby isn’t a walk in the park. It’s essentially a parasite, for all biological intents and purposes. That’s not an inconvenience, that’s a drain on your body. [...]
    [T]he fetus is not a conscious, sentient actor engaging in a contract. The fetus is not capable of entering into a contract because it can’t even think. So there is no “tenant” here–only a “parasite”.

    However, consistently applied, this line of reasoning implies that infanticide by abandonment is also perfectly justified. An infant is also not a thinking participant in a contract, but merely a parasite (you may argue that an ectoparasite is not as bad as an endoparasite, but the difference is merely one of degree). So, do you believe that parents should be allowed to abandon a newborn child in the town square, and let it either be picked up by a charitable stranger or starve to death? You can argue that the government should step in and let parents abandon the infant, but only by placing it into governmental care. However, this way you’ve merely shifted and diversified the channels through which the parasitism takes place. If the parents cannot be burdened by the responsibility for the child, what gives one the right to burden the taxpayers?

    It seems to me that the only way out of this is through some kind of utilitarian argument that weighs the utility of the fetus/infant versus the inconvenience and cost to the parents and taxpayers. By such reasoning, one might argue that imposing a cost on the parents or taxpayers is a small enough price for keeping the infant alive, whereas the inconvenience of suffering an endoparasite for several months is too high a price for saving the fetus. But if you resort to an argument like this, it seems to me that you have to abandon the principled, rights-based approach that you’ve been arguing so far.

    By this post, I’m not trying to construct a reductio ad absurdum of your position for a merely rhetorical purpose — I am honestly interested if someone has a meaningful reply to it. In fact, personally, I am strongly opposed to any sort of legislation against abortion.

  • Sophie’s Choice: the 15 year old or the fetus? It depends on the 15 year old. Maybe if he or she is a schmuck I’d want a do-over. Makes me think of the Paul and Storm song to the first child, “Mommy and Daddy are making a better version of you.”

    Viability: that term is loose in definition. Living unsupported outside the womb? Meaning, totally self-supporting, able to feed, clothe, and shelter oneself? Well, that would be somewhere around 18-28 years old, and adult kids who return to the nest and those who are dependent on the government still really aren’t viable and perhaps subject to a postnatal abortion?

    Self awareness: psychologically speaking, the capacity for self-reflection on any deep level would occur with the ability for abstract thought, which happens around age 12 or 13. Truly deep self awareness probably doesn’t happen until middle age or later. So, postnatal abortions are permissible under this standard, too.

    The Webster decision introduced radical subjectivity into the abortion issue, legally. The woman can decide her personal meaning of life and the meaning of the universe and the law has nothing to say. Your discussion of fetal viability and when does a person become a person is totally irrelevant, legally.

    Legally, the child is a person when he or she is born and takes a breath.

    So, as happened here a few years ago, a married couple was driving to the hospital. Mom was in labor and going to deliver her child. Drunk/drugged driver hits them and kills mom and unborn baby that mom had decided was human. However, according to the state, the state medical examiner’s autopsy showed that the child’s lungs showed no evidence of taking a breath. The drunk/drugged driver could only be charged with one homicide, not two.

    So, it really shows that mom can make an individually subjective decision regarding the life, humanity, and viability of her child, but the law doesn’t follow her subjective decision. One breath = right to life. A woman can decide to abort in the delivery room as long as the baby hasn’t breathed yet.

    So, while that leaves much that is abhorrent to me as legal, it is our current legal situation and I am not seeking to tinker with it. My religious and philosophical beliefs are not clamoring to be imposed upon others. Gentle persuasion perhaps, but not legislation.

    As a taxpayer, I don’t think taxpayers should subsidize the sex lives of others or the consequences of those sex lives. Meaning, end government funding of abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, ED drugs, and welfare. If it sounds rough, well, it is true of most of human history and most of the world today. Sex and fertility are optional activities for an individual human’s survival. It isn’t food, clothing, shelter.

    I agree that federally paid contraception, abortion on demand, and welfare programs supporting single mom households are the natural prize of the sexual revolution. Government supported free prostitutes?! Ouch.

  • Er, last post, last paragraph: price, not prize. D’oh!

  • Midwesterner

    A metaphor. Or allegory if you prefer.

    I drive a lot. One February evening I’m sitting in a truck stop in Fargo, fueled up and ready to leave for Bismarck.

    Four cups of coffee and my bladder as empty as I can get it and I’m ready to go. Drowsy as death I wonder how much radio and the CD player will help to keep me awake.

    As I’m leaving the restaurant, a man in a light jacket is standing at the door holding a sign that says “Bismarck“. I nod towards my car, he picks up his rucksack of what appears to be mostly books and we head out to the car. I unlock the passenger’s door and open it for him and then head around the car get in and head down the on-ramp for I-94 westbound.

    The weather forecasters had talked about an Alberta Clipper coming in. For those of you not from the upper midwest, that’s a cold front that forms up in Canada north of the arctic circle and comes screaming down south easterly with fierce winds and bitter temperatures. Nobody else is on the roads, most of the truckers seemed to have hunkered down in the truckstops to wait it out.

    With the temperature tracking from -10F down towards -20F and 25+ mph winds, I set the heater on max.

    The hitchhiker was not much of a conversationalist. Apparently he also had a bottle in that bag and had just finished most of it. He passed out, and grunts and snoring were about it for communication. That and an occasional belch or fart. Real stinking farts. And he turned out to have the most appalling body odor. I’m not sure how I didn’t notice it before, he must have been downwind or something.

    The belching farting and body oder just got worse in the closed up car. But try cracking open a window and it’s ice on the eyelids time. It probably wasn’t too smart to be on the road in these conditions but I guess some people like me just don’t plan ahead real well,…

    Finally, I couldn’t take the smell any more. There weren’t any houses along the stretch I was on but I just could not stand it anymore. I can only hold my breath so long. Even breathing through my mouth didn’t help much. Finally I pulled off at an exit to a two lane asphalt road that disappeared in both directions.

    “Out.” I said.

    He didn’t budge.

    “Out. Now!” I said again, reached over and opened his door.

    “Snore… Fart….”

    “Enough of this.” I say. “I never promised you anything. This is my car. I can do with it as I choose. And I choose for you to get out. Now.”

    A well placed push, and I had the car to my self again.

    So, reader, was this a moral thing I did? I never promised him anything. What happens to him after I kick him out is not my problem. I was just looking for some company along the way but he turned out to be a rather unpleasant surprise. There were no contracts involved, were there? I never even said a word to him, much less promise to deliver him safely to Bismarck. He has no claim on me. Does he?

    You be the judge.

  • Brad

    There are a 110 comments as I write this so I’m just going to barge in and pardon any redundancies.

    I take a constructionist perspective on the issue and try to take the position of least amount of State interference (and therefore freedom) without trailing off into “Reductio ad absurdum” in either direction.

    Random opinions:

    1) Pregnancies are not always planned, and engaging in sex is not a vice or a sin. Concerns over physiological changes may be shallow sometimes, but being so is not a crime against the masses. A person who values a pregnancy different from how you valued yours does not diminish the value of your child. Anti-abortionists (and animal rights people) are absolutist because they feel it makes a mockery of what they value, and are thereby interested in a situation that they are actually a disinterested party in.

    2) Masses of cells abort naturally all the time and may appear to be simply an atypically heavy cycle. Fertilized eggs do not always attach to the uteran wall. To define a fertilized egg, or a mass of cells, as preservable human life at this point is too strict a definition.

    3) It is obvious that many women would rather end the pregnancy as soon as they are aware of it, and no public policy or force changes that desire. Others may debate their desire for a period of time, especially with the first pregnancy as a woman (or girl) may not be prepared for eventualities until they are upon her.

    4) A woman deciding to end the growth of cells at some exponential factor of base 2, and that is a merely a blob, does not threaten anyone else’s life or property in any way.

    5) Forcing a woman to birth an unwanted child by preventing her from timely aborting creates either a bad household situation, or unwanted children that will have to be cared for collectively, creating another branch in the Statist Leviathan; orphanages, dodgy foster homes, adoption bureaucrats, social service oversight etc etc.

    6) The growth of a featus is obviously linear, and any attempt to fraction the process into trimesters or viability is a grey area at best. We have all sorts of brightline tests for assumption of rights and responsibilities that do not make sense, perhaps, on a case by case basis. Physical maturation into adulthood takes place at different times for different people. Actual birth is as bright a line as can be found here. Anything else would require a bevy of doctors with varying opinions, lawyers, judges, gendarmes etc etc.

    All together it seems that the decision to have a child is up to those that conceived it, and ultimately the woman carrying it. Intruding en masse into the process once the egg is fertilized and attached would demand a level of State function that I am not comfortable with.
    Leaving them to decide, without the comfort of subsidy in any way, whether they want to birth the child or abort it, and allowing either course of action is one that contains the most liberty for all parties, interested or disinterested.

    Using birth as bright a line as there is for bequeathing with Rights is at least a starting point for discussion back toward viability or forward a month, as one college professor posits.

    Regardless of all that has been said, it is ridiculous to have forced subsidy of any kind, particularly as it leads to a woman deciding one day that she is entitled to “public” money for prenatal care for her unborn baby and ask for more to remove cancer-like growths the next.

    An argument against forced subsidy in general is that desires are ephemeral, but the extortion of property is certain. Holding those who make sound decisions that tend to build equity to be financially responsible for people whose opinions (and actions) float with the breeze is precisely what makes socialism an unworkable, and ultimately evil, system.

  • However, consistently applied, this line of reasoning implies that infanticide by abandonment is also perfectly justified. An infant is also not a thinking participant in a contract, but merely a parasite (you may argue that an ectoparasite is not as bad as an endoparasite, but the difference is merely one of degree)

    By this post, I’m not trying to construct a reductio ad absurdum of your position for a merely rhetorical purpose — I am honestly interested if someone has a meaningful reply to it

    Is there a completely satisfactory response to this? I don’t believe there is. Somewhere along the road from conception to adulthood a child becomes a person. We clearly cannot extend the same rights to chidren that we do to adults, and a lot of decisions we make here will simply be arbitrary (like, for example, setting the voting age at 18 – some people are mature enough to vote at 14, others arguably never). When all is said and done, the decision to say that a child’s independent existence begins at birth is also arbitrary. I choose to define it here because I believe a person’s body should be unambiguously her (in this case) own. “At birth” is the dividing point in the whole process that causes the least amount of philosophical confusion about the relevant questions. But I recognize that it’s not without problems.

    As I said, I do not believe there is a completely satisfactory answer here. Leaving an infant to die (or possibly be picked up) is illegal because the child is now independent of its mother’s body and has rights that do not conflict with hers. If she has brought the child to term, then she has agreed to be its guardian until she can find someone else to take over.

    That said, I do not think penalties for abandoning newborns should be as severe as those for murder because of all the complications listed above. A newborn, as Perry has pointed out, is not substantially different from the child in the womb it was the day or two before. nor is it a “person” in the same full sense as a three-year-old.

    So there you have it. “Physical separation/birth” is an arbitrary line – but I can’t think of a better one. Infanticide should be illegal and punishable, but not as full murder.

  • Midwesterner-

    The answer to your moral puzzle is that it is indeed immoral for you to throw the hobo out, just as it is probably immoral for a woman to terminate a pregnancy days or even weeks before term. But this is not a categorical imperative. Consequently, though I may (hypothetically, of course!) think you a bad person for throwing him out, I will not forbid it, and I will not bear any long-term grudges. Certainly it should not be illegal for you to throw out a hitchhiker you have picked up – no matter what your reason for doing so.

  • Midwesterner

    Am I hearing you correctly?

    You are saying that it should be legally okay for me to kill the hitchhiker simply because I never said I wouldn’t?

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Midwesterner, it’s beside the point. Your metaphor falls apart instantly because in it you are dealing with a grown man. You seem to be utterly missing the point we (Joshua and I) are making which is that a fetus is not a fully formed human.

    What your story indicates to me, and this is not an insult, is that you do not, or cannot, view fetuses and grown humans as distinct. If so, then just say that, and realize that we disagree with you, instead of creating allegories which conflate two things which we do not conflate.

    Since we do view them as distinct, your allegory is meaningless to us.

  • Midwesterner

    Alfred E. Neuman,

    you do not, or cannot, view fetuses and grown humans as distinct

    I may, (or may not of, this thread is so long I can’t remember) said above that ‘means testing‘ fetuses to qualify them for life leads philosophically to forceable eugenics. While I don’t necessarily belief in a ‘right to life’ for all of the above, I do believe that all of them are entitled to be recognized as human and given due protection of law before these rights are terminated.

    I haven’t broached my case for when rights do or don’t apply because this thread is determinedly bludgeoning away trying to find the end of a rainbow. There is creationism at work here… ‘at some point it magically becomes a person‘.

    I reject the idea of treating personhood as a means tested entitlement program, complete with all that implies.

    a fetus is not a fully formed human

    I’ve seen all degrees of less than fully formed humans, some of substantial age. I philosophically reject shortcutting due process of law by simply declaring someone less than fully human. It’s been done before.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Mid, I’m sorry, I got pulled off message by responding to your allegory, and lost track of the real point.

    It’s not declaring someone less than human. It’s weighing the right of control over one’s body of a fully formed human with the “right” of a questionably formed human (questionable in that nobody seems to be able to agree) to continue to exist in that fully formed human’s body.

    What we are saying is that since there is question over the status of the fetus, but no question over the status of the woman, we must invoke the rights of the woman, because her rights are all we know for sure.

  • Midwesterner

    We agree on everything but one. Let both (there’s actually a father, also) be represented before the law.

    The purpose of the law is to mediate relations between people. Let it mediate this case, also.

    The courts can and frequently do rule on cases involving the death of one person for the benefit of another. I linked a case above somewhere. Courts that recognized libertarian principles should be fully capable of making a correct determination.

    But please let us never resort to judging anybody with human DNA to not be human. Let them be human and let the court decide whether to pull the plug or whatever.

    I had a cousin, killed as a consequence of a motorcycle accident. He flew through the air and hit a curb head first without a helmet. Flat on brainwave for several days before they pulled the plug. I reject the idea that he ceased to be a person during that time before they turned off life support. He was no longer sentient, but let the laws still have jurisdiction over him and approve the final decision.

    No body on this thread has even yet to touched on the possible side effects of chosing birth or any other post conception time for the begining of personhood. Organ breeding?

    This subjective route is a very dangerous way to go and there is a clear demarcation available. And if what you propose is correct and in keeping with the laws, then they will rule that and you will get the result you seek without all the terrible potential of withholding recognition of personhood based on performance standards.

  • Midwesterner

    I typed something misleading there. When I said let ‘both’ I meant mother and (potential?) child. The father is also a third person who needs to be represented.

    How do you know there was no contract between the (potential?) father and (potential?) mother? Shouldn’t he at least be informed? The law needs to be involved. On many levels and for many reasons. There is more than one person involved. Obviously.

  • I haven’t broached my case for when rights do or don’t apply because this thread is determinedly bludgeoning away trying to find the end of a rainbow. There is creationism at work here… ‘at some point it magically becomes a person’.

    If you’re going to start calling names (“end of a rainbow,” “creationism,” “forced eugenics”) I would prefer you just spelled out your case for when rights do or don’t apply. Actually, one of the main reasons this thread got started was so that we could hear this case. If you’ll recall, I mentioned I was interested in hearing a Libertarian (i.e. not Religious Right) pro-life argument. You implied you had one but wouldn’t spell it out without editors’ permission. Perry kindly obliged. So…

  • Midwesterner

    Joshua,

    End of the rainbow = looking for a place (or marker) that doesn’t exist.

    Creationism = looking of facts to support a preexisting opinion.

    Forced eugenics. If you can’t see the potential for this and choose to call it name calling, you need to read my entire case, please.

    By characterisation of many sharing your view, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive point to be found in the area you are looking in. And yet your mind seems made up. While admitting that the facts are incomplete and the result unsatisfactory.

    I quote you from 4:28

    The question that hasn’t been answered about the foetus to anyone’s satisfaction is what legal status it has, and when it acquires this status. As Alfred E. Neuman nicely put it – you’re abridging a fundamental liberty on guesses.

    And from 11:52

    So there you have it. “Physical separation/birth” is an arbitrary line – but I can’t think of a better one. Infanticide should be illegal and punishable, but not as full murder.

    Decriminalizing or reduced criminalizing infanticide? I don’t think I’m name calling, I think some of my predictions of the consequences of that way of thinking are fully legitimate concerns.

  • So does this mean you’re not going to spell out your case? I would like to hear it.

    (How do you get “decriminalizing” infanticide out of a line that says that it should be illegal and punishable?)

  • By characterisation of many sharing your view, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive point to be found in the area you are looking in. And yet your mind seems made up. While admitting that the facts are incomplete and the result unsatisfactory.

    Yes, the facts are incomplete and the results unsatisfactory. My mind is made up only in the sense that I haven’t heard any better arguments. If your case is a better argument, then I would very much like to hear it. I obviously cannot consider it if you will not say what it is.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve just been on a merry chase though my computer try to recover little bits and pieces when windows shuts down and firefox is still running.

    I don’t know how that’s possible, but it seems to be.

    And, just for the record, apparently you can have too many tabs open in one window.

    I even found the remark I was working on when everything went stationary on me.

    Here ’tis.

    ***

    Marijuana has been decriminalized in many states. It’s still against the law.

    It’s not clear from your statement how far you intend to reduce it. But less than murder is enough to make me very concerned where it will end, if it goes this far in a discussion by someone who I considered actually a rather reasonable person, what could it do in the real world?

    ***

    From here on out I can’t find any more so I’ll post this and start another.

  • t’s not clear from your statement how far you intend to reduce it. But less than murder is enough to make me very concerned where it will end, if it goes this far in a discussion by someone who I considered actually a rather reasonable person, what could it do in the real world?

    Fine, but I was actually more interested in this statement:

    I haven’t broached my case for when rights do or don’t apply because this thread is determinedly bludgeoning away trying to find the end of a rainbow.

    That is, I’m interested in hearing when rights do and don’t apply. That’s the part of the case that is the crux of the matter for me. I agree with you that anything with human DNA is a human – I even agree that the child before term can be a person. What this hinges on seems to be how we weight the rights of the child against the rights of the mother, etc.

    It seems to me that you yourself accept that development plays a role in legal status. Presumably, for example, you think that sexual relations with children should be illegal and punishable – and this on the grounds that children are not old enough to give consent. Likewise with voting, likewise with criminal trials and consequences (I’m assuming that you think there is some sense to trying younger murderers as minors rather than as full adults, etc.). All of these things are markers of opinions that accept that development plays a role in legal status.

    I think it is a very difficult issue to decide what legal status applies to which stages of development, etc. I fully admit that my opinions on abortion are not completely satisfactory. So I’m interested to hear new views on it. Please spell out your views as to what rights accrue to people and when, and how we resolve conflicts with the rights of others (such as the mother’s right to control what happens to her body) as arise.

  • t’s not clear from your statement how far you intend to reduce it. But less than murder is enough to make me very concerned where it will end, if it goes this far in a discussion by someone who I considered actually a rather reasonable person, what could it do in the real world?

    Fine, but I was actually more interested in this statement:

    I haven’t broached my case for when rights do or don’t apply because this thread is determinedly bludgeoning away trying to find the end of a rainbow.

    That is, I’m interested in hearing when rights do and don’t apply. That’s the part of the case that is the crux of the matter for me. I agree with you that anything with human DNA is a human – I even agree that the child before term can be a person. What this hinges on seems to be how we weight the rights of the child against the rights of the mother, etc.

    It seems to me that you yourself accept that development plays a role in legal status. Presumably, for example, you think that sexual relations with children should be illegal and punishable – and this on the grounds that children are not old enough to give consent. Likewise with voting, likewise with criminal trials and consequences (I’m assuming that you think there is some sense to trying younger murderers as minors rather than as full adults, etc.). All of these things are markers of opinions that accept that development plays a role in legal status.

    I think it is a very difficult issue to decide what legal status applies to which stages of development, etc. I fully admit that my opinions on abortion are not completely satisfactory. So I’m interested to hear new views on it. Please spell out your views as to what rights accrue to people and when, and how we resolve conflicts with the rights of others (such as the mother’s right to control what happens to her body) as arise.

  • Midwesterner

    I can tell that my concern, while hopefully visible, is not communicating very well.

    I believe in government by a constitutional contract between citizens founded on the principle of Life, Liberty and Property of Individuals.

    I trust a structure based on this to reach the best possible conclusions in an imperfect world. While I have grave concerns about the progressive degeneration of our government as it drifts farther and farther from its founding, I am in no way or by any stretch, an anarchist. I believe that governments need to be established (with strong restraints on them) among men. I most emphatically do not believe that might makes right.

    When ever there is any doubt, as there clearly is in this matter, the choice must be as far in the direction of extending the umbrella of legal protection as necessary to achieve certainty. Doubts must always be resolved in favor of an opportunity to apply for the protection of the laws.

    Those laws are where justice is to be found, not in the process of admission to the system. Someone above, perhaps a troll, perhaps an attempt at humor, perhaps a serious question, asked about sentient animals. My answer is, if there is doubt, allow petition to the courts. The courts can always say “ah… No.” and no harm done.

    I don’t see a great need to make strong arguments about how a court should rule because what matters most is that it has the opportunity.

    For my perspective, this is a question of possible (we don’t seem to know for sure) anarchy, as in might makes right, versus protection of Life, Liberty and Property, as in a court deciding that the mother’s right prevails. Even if the result appears the same, the process is not.

    Am I doing any better at communicating? I’m sure using enough band width.

  • t’s not clear from your statement how far you intend to reduce it. But less than murder is enough to make me very concerned where it will end, if it goes this far in a discussion by someone who I considered actually a rather reasonable person, what could it do in the real world?

    Fine, but I was actually more interested in this statement:

    I haven’t broached my case for when rights do or don’t apply because this thread is determinedly bludgeoning away trying to find the end of a rainbow.

    That is, I’m interested in hearing when rights do and don’t apply. That’s the part of the case that is the crux of the matter for me. I agree with you that anything with human DNA is a human – I even agree that the child before term can be a person. What this hinges on seems to be how we weight the rights of the child against the rights of the mother, etc.

    It seems to me that you yourself accept that development plays a role in legal status. Presumably, for example, you think that sexual relations with children should be illegal and punishable – and this on the grounds that children are not old enough to give consent. Likewise with voting, likewise with criminal trials and consequences (I’m assuming that you think there is some sense to trying younger murderers as minors rather than as full adults, etc.). All of these things are markers of opinions that accept that development plays a role in legal status.

    I think it is a very difficult issue to decide what legal status applies to which stages of development, etc. I fully admit that my opinions on abortion are not completely satisfactory. So I’m interested to hear new views on it. Please spell out your views as to what rights accrue to people and when, and how we resolve conflicts with the rights of others (such as the mother’s right to control what happens to her body) as arise.

  • Midwesterner

    I actually have an opinion that is a throw back to earlier times in our country when the power to vote was not thrown around indiscriminately.

    I think that

    The protection of the laws should extend to all.

    But ‘full’ citizenship should require petitioning for it. Swearing an oath of allegiance to the constitution. I would like someone to be required to demonstrate understanding of it but that isn’t possible I don’t think.

    With full citizenship would come the rights to vote, run for office, serve on jury and as judges, serve in law enforcement, military, etc.

    Other protectees of the constitution would include the rest of the population. I would like there to be some test of understanding of the constitution associated with full voting etc privileges but without giving it more thought, I’m not sure if it could be done justly.

    Perhaps sexual relations with someone who hasn’t acquired full citizenship and (if doable) demonstrated understanding of basic constitutional principles would be unlawful, I don’t know. This part of the discussion is probably getting far off topic and we’re only 1 1/2 days into this thread. A little early to take it walk about. Not to mention much unresolved business that is closer to topic.

    I’ve got to go to bed. I’ll check back in maybe ten to twelve hours if time allows.

    BTW somewhere between 33 and 36 tabs in one window Firefox gets very strange. Open views with no tabs, views associating with other tabs, that sort of thing. Maybe it’s just on my system, I don’t know.

  • Uain

    I’ll give you rape, incest, etc.
    But what about the woman who didn’t want to be fat on the Carnival Cruise, or abortion for sex selection, or the upper-middleclass family who just don’t want to be bothered with their daughter’s bad choices at college.

    Here’s an idea…..
    How about that once the mother decides to have sex and conceives, then her rights transmute to her responsibilities to her offspring? How about the man is held accountable and must contribute to the child’s upbringing and education?

    Ooops, silly me, we are talking about rights not responsibilities.

  • Ivan

    Uain:

    Here’s an idea…..
    How about that once the mother decides to have sex and conceives, then her rights transmute to her responsibilities to her offspring?

    Here is a problem: how to enforce this principle in practice? It is very easy to formally outlaw abortion — during certain historical periods, it was indeed prohibited in most Western countries — but these laws were never enforced with much seriousness in practice. Any serious attempt to actually enforce such laws would make the alcohol prohibition and the drug war look like a blazing success.

    Historically, the only government that ever made a serious attempt to eradicate abortion was Ceausescu’s Romania (Ceausescu was obsessed with pro-natalist policies). As most readers of this website probably know, this was one of the most totalitarian states in history, and anti-abortion measures implemented there included the following:

    http://countrystudies.us/romania/37.htm

    Monthly gynecological examinations for all women of childbearing age were instituted, even for pubescent girls, to identify pregnancies in the earliest stages and to monitor pregnant women to ensure that their pregnancies came to term. Miscarriages were to be investigated and illegal abortions prosecuted, resulting in prison terms of one year for the women concerned and up to five years for doctors and other medical personnel performing the procedure. Doctors and nurses involved in gynecology came under increasing pressure, especially after 1985, when “demographic command units” were set up to ensure that all women were gynecologically examined at their place of work. These units not only monitored pregnancies and ensured deliveries but also investigated childless women and couples, asked detailed questions about their sex lives and the general health of their reproductive systems, and recommended treatment for infertility. [...] Even when an abortion was legally justified, after 1985 a party representative had to be present to authorize and supervise the procedure.

    The practical result?

    Women who failed to get official approval were forced to seek illegal abortions, which could be had for a carton of Kent cigarettes.

    I think this example should be enough to dispel any illusions that a ban on abortion could ever be enforced with any success, even in a totalitarian state — let alone in a society that attempts to keep some semblance of civil liberties.

  • Judith Levine

    I’ve been pondering this since I read these comments yesterday. Let me tell you why I think Perry De Havilland’s contract analogy is 101% correct.

    Just because a contract cannot be varied, with new terms and condition agreed by negotiation, that does make it any less of a contract if the one set of conditions available are agreed to. The only thing that matters is that the terms and conditions are understood at the outset. Also, many contracts are either verbal or implicit and this is clearly an implicit contract.

    Women know what the “terms and conditions” are for pregnancy. We’ve known for 50,000 years and there aren’t many things you can say that about. So to use De Havilland’s language, when a woman rents out her body for nine months, she has a pretty good idea what she’s agreeing to. The contract even has a time-limited get-out clause that the woman can reclaim her property up to the point a person, rather than a cluster of cells, takes up occupation. But once another individual has taken up occupation (i.e. the get-out clause was not exercised within the allotted time), the other individual’s rights must now be respected and provided they do not unexpectedly pose an extra-ordinary risk to the “landlord” during the tenancy, they cannot be evicted for the remainder of the period.

  • BTW somewhere between 33 and 36 tabs in one window Firefox gets very strange. Open views with no tabs, views associating with other tabs, that sort of thing. Maybe it’s just on my system, I don’t know.

    It’s not – Firefox is pretty buggy. I find Opera easier to use and much more reliable.

  • The contract even has a time-limited get-out clause that the woman can reclaim her property up to the point a person, rather than a cluster of cells, takes up occupation.

    When is that point and how do you know? These are questions you must answer if you’re going to take away someone’s full legal control over their body.

  • You have that the wrong way round, Joshua, those are the questions a woman must ask answer before possibly killing someone. I do not know exactly when that point is, but I have a pretty good idea where it is not (i.e. conception or birth).

    I have never claimed to have all the answers, I am just trying to get to grips with what the best theory is.

    For sure within the first two or three week that is certainly not a person and so it cannot have any rights… so if the woman exercises her ‘time-limited get-out clause’ as Judith quite effectively puts, it within that period, no problem. Two or three weeks before birth however, that is certainly murder.

    Personally I think we just do not have the insight and/or technology to know with any certainty where to draw the line with any precision, just that that a lines does need to be drawn at some point between conception and birth.

    Therefore I think my basic theory is good enough to tell me that both absolutist positions are wrong (i.e. it has rights at the moment of conception vs. it has no right right up until it is born), thus I can live with most of the current ‘middle ground’ legal approaches, though my preferences make me deeply uneasy at the notion of charging a woman with murder until at least after the first month as a minimum.

  • Uain

    Great post Ivan-
    I agree that simply outlawing something tends to not be very effective. I think that the market place would be a better determinant. At present I think it is warped by regulations that favor the man. For example, if you are on welfare, a preganant woman goes thru all the labor of getting the abortion while the guy does nothing. Seems that a postmortem could determine patrimony and then the guy could be charged for the abortion, or work picking up litter for a time to “pay his debt”. I believe abortion would be limited dramatically if the guy had to go through even a hint of what the woman does.

  • You have that the wrong way round, Joshua, those are the questions a woman must ask answer before possibly killing someone.

    Those are question she must answer for herself before she makes the decision – which is her right – to do something she may regret.

    You have that the wrong way round, Joshua, those are the questions a woman must ask answer before possibly killing someone.

    A “pretty good idea” is not sufficient for abridging the woman’s right to bodily integrity – which we are absolutely sure she has.

    I have never claimed to have all the answers, I am just trying to get to grips with what the best theory is.

    I feel the same way. This is an extremely difficult issue. That’s why I’m hoping that Midwesterner does eventually make good on his promise to spell out his case for why rights begin at conception. I’m always willing to listen to new perspectives on abortion.

    …my preferences make me deeply uneasy at the notion of charging a woman with murder until at least after the first month as a minimum.

    But just to be clear – you would charge her with murder (and presumably the doctor as well), say, a month before term? The same kind of willful, first-degree murder that we apply to other planned killings?

  • Apologies – obviously the second quotation pasted is a repeat. I meant to cite this one:

    I do not know exactly when that point is, but I have a pretty good idea where it is not (i.e. conception or birth).

  • Those are question she must answer for herself before she makes the decision – which is her right – to do something she may regret.

    Regret is not really the issue, avoiding murder is.

    A “pretty good idea” is not sufficient for abridging the woman’s right to bodily integrity – which we are absolutely sure she has

    I am not denying that she has a right to bodily integrity. But because she has that right, she can also assign part of it to another person and when she does, she no longer has an unlimited right to do with it as she pleases as the expense of the other individual involved here… and as I have said before, her convenience does not trump the right to life of the other person, once it has a right to life.

    But just to be clear – you would charge her with murder (and presumably the doctor as well), say, a month before term? The same kind of willful, first-degree murder that we apply to other planned killings?

    One month before birth it is clearly a person, no ifs, buts or maybes…so absolutely. Both of them. Murder in the first degree, with premeditation.

  • The unborn child must have rights, of some sort, because there are many instances where a pregnant woman was murdered and the killer faced two sets of charges, one for the woman, and one for the unborn child. This is a very tricky part of American law.

    Myself, I am opposed to abortion in general. I do not think that it should be illegal until after the first trimester, and I despise the idea of tax dollars paying for it.

    A solution for the teen pregnancy crisis must be implemented in order to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare”. Clearly the ‘sex education’ policies of the past 20 years are a failure. The answer? I’m not sure. Sorry.

  • Steven Groeneveld

    My view on abortion is extreme, because I believe in principles, and principles that don’t work at the extremes aren’t worth a damn. To the pro-choice crowd I say that you have a choice. That choice occurs before conception. A clump of cells in the womb are a full human being, as their DNA are fully formed and working on the program to build a complete human being. A process that takes 20 or more years until most parts stop growing.

    Also an arbitrary cutoff of “survivability outside the womb” is meaningless because even a full term newborn can no more support itself than the first cell in the womb, in fact less so. A foetus in the womb can rely on the unconscious but pre-programmed life support system of the womb but a baby needs the conscious support of an external caregiver for several years.

    Another way to look at it is how current law actually prejudices fathers against mothers. Fathers can be legally forced into child support without a choice, (other than to guard against conception in the first place)whereas the mother appears to have a choice beyond conception. This is patently unfair and no common principle seems to bind responsibilities of mothers or fathers. To have the law based on principle, one way or the other, if mothers are allowed abortion then fathers must be allowed to opt out of child support.

    My principles, pushed to the extremes mean I am absolutely against abortion at any time after conception.

    Incidentally I am also against the death penalty. A combination of viewpoints that seems to be quite rare, but I maintain that my views on both are morally consistent.

  • Midwesterner

    Judith,

    We’ve known for 50,000 years …

    (i.e. the get-out clause was not exercised within the allotted time)

    I don’t think we’ve know about the get-out clause for more than a miniscule fraction of that. While no doubt there have been cultures that new how to induce ‘spontaneous’ abortion, I think for 49,000 of those years it was rare knowledge, indeed. Do you think 1/10th of 1 percent had that option?

    To everyone here,

    We have a serious problem when we have even very concise, opinionated people like Perry, who routinely takes apart arguments and hands them back in a basket just by projecting them to their inevitable conclusions, making statements like

    I do not know exactly when that point is, but I have a pretty good idea where it is not

    and

    I have never claimed to have all the answers, I am just trying to get to grips with what the best theory is.

    and

    Personally I think we just do not have the insight and/or technology to know with any certainty where to draw the line with any precision, just that that a lines does need to be drawn at some point between conception and birth.

    and Joshua

    “Physical separation/birth” is an arbitrary line – but I can’t think of a better one.

    and

    Is there a completely satisfactory response to this? I don’t believe there is. Somewhere along the road from conception to adulthood a child becomes a person.

    and

    When is that point and how do you know? These are questions you must answer if you’re going to take away someone’s full legal control over their body.

    And Jacob

    What seems impossible is – to draw the line based on basic principles and facts. Which is what we are interested in.

    And Ivan

    It seems to me that the only way out of this is through some kind of utilitarian argument … But if you resort to an argument like this, it seems to me that you have to abandon the principled, rights-based approach that you’ve been arguing so far.

    and

    The disturbing truth is that this line drastically varies between societies and cultures, and in many cases it is drawn well after birth. It seems to me that this is indeed one of those issues where full-blown moral relativism is the only rational conclusion that can be drawn from observing the attitudes and practices prevailing in different human societies.

    and Ian

    Many people in this comments thread have called for a definition of the point at which a foetus becomes ‘human’. I think the point is that there is no answer which stands up in an absolute binary choice sense. … Sometimes there are no answers except a call to your god – an answer I reject but others don’t.

    and Brad

    4) A woman deciding to end the growth of cells at some exponential factor of base 2, and that is a merely a blob, does not threaten anyone else’s life or property in any way.

    Which confuses me because he seems to say that precisely because the blob is no threat to anyone else, it does not deserve protection.

    and Brad again

    6) The growth of a featus is obviously linear, and any attempt to fraction the process into trimesters or viability is a grey area at best. We have all sorts of brightline tests for assumption of rights and responsibilities that do not make sense, perhaps, on a case by case basis. Physical maturation into adulthood takes place at different times for different people. Actual birth is as bright a line as can be found here. Anything else would require a bevy of doctors with varying opinions, lawyers, judges, gendarmes etc etc.

    And again Joshua,

    I thought I had [given any objective non-interpretive marker]. The child is human at conception; I made that clear in earlier posts. But Perry is right that in some sense that question is beside the point. The question is who has what rights, what conflicts between rights are there, and in whose favor do we resolve such conflicts?

    We do have two bright lines. One is rather blurry, and getting blurrier every day as technology improves. The other one is as clean as a laser cut. These two obvious lines are birth and DNA formation.

    When there is such unmistakable doubt, the error should be risked in the direction of recognition of a right to due process of law.


    Doubts must always be resolved in favor of an opportunity to apply for the protection of the laws.


    Those laws are where justice is to be found, not in the process of admission to the system.

  • Midwesterner

    Fucking is a CHOICE!

    Even Uain says “I’ll give you rape, incest, etc.”

    If the recreational activity in question were anything else,… smoking, shooting up, alcohol, fast motorcycles (my favorite), jumping out of airplanes, or polyunsaturated fats, you would all be making two stipulations.

    You have the right.

    You are responsible for the consequences.

    You would not allow drunk drivers to be absolved from the consequences when a life is injured or taken.

    You would not allow a drug user to kill to feed his addiction.

    You would not allow a smoker to blame society for cancer.

    You treat with justifiable derision the idea that fat people have a claim on society for letting them eat too much of the wrong things.

    And yet somehow, on this topic, you go all squishy. Suddenly, the woman becomes an apparently helpless victim of her urges, not to be held accountable for creating a child. The father? Curious that it is the people who think all abortion is quite possibly killing somebody, who also emphasis that the father is half of the responsibility.

    This thread is so out of character for Samizdata that I don’t know how to proceed. In all discussions regarding redistributing of somebody’s property to another person, there is a resounding demand for rational thought and facts and premature conclusions are rejected until they can be substantiated.

    On this thread the reverse is true. Without any possible doubt, the commenters holding the concensus is that the time is somewhere in the first trimester, now we just have to ‘prove’ it.

    They haven’t even bothered to debunk other claims because it just doesn’t seem right. Therefore it’s not. Until we can prove it’s not, just trust us that we are right. Some of them even acknowledge that there is no clear point possible in the place they are looking.

    I don’t know how to proceed in a discussion where reason is set aside because we just ‘know’ things. I think my presence here is probably wasted.

  • When there is such unmistakable doubt, the error should be risked in the direction of recognition of a right to due process of law.

    Yes, and the right we are absolutely certain is present is the right of the mother to bodily integrity. Saying that she has no such right with regard to a handful of ill-formed cells is a position you’re going to have to defend if you want to take her right away.

    I don’t know how to proceed in a discussion where reason is set aside because we just ‘know’ things. I think my presence here is probably wasted.

    I have asked you several times to please detail your opinion. I have signaled that I am open-minded on the subject by saying, in no uncertain terms, that I am not completely satisfied with my own conclusions on it. If I continue to argue with Perry it is becuase I like to make absolutely certain that I am not overlooking anything before I change my mind on something.

    I don’t see what you have to lose by expounding it. At worst, you will have had a chance to practice expressing it concisely. At best, you will have won some converts, which may, in its small way, influence abortion policy in the US, or at least how some vote on it. If you don’t want to field criticisms of your opinion because you think we’re not rational enough, that is, of course, your right. You can simply ignore comments/question posted after yours is made. But it is annoying to constantly go on about having the answers when you are not willing to share those answers with the rest of us. There is no point in defending your opinion only to people who already agree with you. We are, in fact, exactly the audience you should want if you sincerely believe in your position. So, let’s hear the actual opinion already and not just yet another repetition of the fact that you disagree with everyone. I think we’re all amply clear on that point by now.

  • Ivan

    Judith Levene:

    [Referring to Perry de Havilland's pregnancy-as-contract theory:] Just because a contract cannot be varied, with new terms and condition agreed by negotiation, that does make it any less of a contract if the one set of conditions available are agreed to. The only thing that matters is that the terms and conditions are understood at the outset. Also, many contracts are either verbal or implicit and this is clearly an implicit contract.

    Women know what the “terms and conditions” are for pregnancy. We’ve known for 50,000 years and there aren’t many things you can say that about.

    The problem with applying theories about implicit contracts in controversial cases like this is that such contracts are, in my opinion, nothing more than — to use a somewhat dirty word — social constructs. I’ll try to clarify as well as I can.

    What gives validity to an implicit contract is the near-unanimous willingness of people in a particular society to recognize that engaging in a certain action implies consent to a set of well-defined terms. (A necessary condition for this, of course, is that any sane individual must be familiar with such situations and the applicable terms.) For example, in our society virtually everyone believes that by ordering a drink in a bar, one consents to paying the price set by the bar owner — even if one just strolls in saying, “I’d like a beer,” and gets served without anyone mentioning the price at any moment. But what makes it so is merely the universally recognized convention in our society, which might well be different. Such conventions are there to make life easier — imagine having to explicitly negotiate every detail of even the most trivial transaction you conduct in everyday life — and arouse no controversy whatsoever, because they are based on universally accepted standards of behavior that everyone spontaneously accepts as a child.

    However, when it comes to issues where there are widely diverging beliefs about what people’s rights and responsibilities should be, I belive that it makes no sense to postulate the existence of such implicit contracts. One can attempt to argue that implicit contracts have validity separate from people’s beliefs and expectations. But I honestly cannot find any rational basis for arguing so. One can engage in a valid contract only by understanding and consciously accepting its terms. In case of a valid implicit contract — as when one orders a drink in a bar — this is also the case, since one is reasonably expected to know that in our society, certain acts are universally recognized as signaling consent to implicit, unspoken terms.

    What you would like to postulate is an implicit contract about one’s obligations towards one’s children, to which one supposedly consents by engaging in sex. Even if we ignore the obvious problem that it’s impossible to determine what exact set of obligations this should be, there is still the problem of justifying the basic validity of such a contract. Even the valid implicit contracts ultimately depend on setting the terms through a clear meeting of minds. When you order a drink, there is a meeting of minds between you and the bartender, in which you signal consent to pay the advertised price for what you ordered; what makes the contract implicit in this case is merely the social convention that saves the tedious details. But I can’t see how this condition is satisfied in the case of an “implicit contract” with one’s future children.

    Please enlighten me if I’m completely missing the point about how exactly you are trying to justify the existence of this supposed implicit contract.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    [T]he right we are absolutely certain is present is the right of the mother to bodily integrity. Saying that she has no such right with regard to a handful of ill-formed cells is a position you [Midwesterner] [a]re going to have to defend if you want to take her right away.

    I’ll try to set forth my interpretation of MW’s arguments, which I belive has some interesting points.

    You say that the mother is beyond any doubt an individual entitled to a full-blown set of individual rights — the right to control one’s body being one of them — whereas the status of an embryo in that regard is uncertain at best. Fair enough. From this you move on to conclude that because of this difference, the mother’s indisputable self-ownership rights have preponderance over any rights the embryo might have.

    Now, this would be a very strong argument if there was a conflict of the same right between an undisputed individual and an entity of uncertain status. But one could reply that while the advocates of the embryo are asserting its most fundamental right (namely, right to life), the woman is asserting only a right of convenience (namely, not to be bothered by endoparasitism, a painful birth procedure, etc.). Thus, one might claim that an indisputable violation of a lesser right is still justified if the alternative is even a mere possibility of violating a much more fundamental right.

    MW’s concern about defining the human status of various entities out of existence is, I believe, not entirely without merit. In cases where one must choose between two alternatives, both of which violate the same rights of two different entities, it is reasonable to choose the one that violates the rights of the entity whose human status is less certain, or which we value less for whatever reason. Few people would honestly consider it worthy to sacrifice the life of a mother to save the life of an embryo. If we had to choose, without alternatives, which one of two individuals will be unjustly killed, most people would opt to save the one whom they consider more worthy for whatever reason. However, when it comes to choosing between the ultimate rights violation (i.e. killing) of a lesser valued entity and a violation of a less significant right of a higher valued one, the situation is nowhere as clear. If one accepts the principle that in such situations, the certainty of human status outweights any consideration of the heaviness of the rights violation, one could indeed be tempted to start restricting the definition of humanity for nefarious purposes.

    This line of reasoning also naturally leads to my previous argument about infanticide. Since we can reasonably doubt the status of the infant as an individual with rights, the principle of giving priority to the undisputed property rights of parents would lead us to accept infanticide (at least by abandonment).

    I am of course just playing devil’s advocate here. As I’ve explained in my previous posts, for purely practical reasons, I would consider legal prohibition of abortion an insanity on the same scale as the drug war.

  • Midwesterner

    Ivan, I think that is in part what I am saying.

    Joshua. I have said it again and again and again and repeated it over again.

    I believe that new DNA is in doubt and therefore should be granted on opportunity to have its rights advocated.

    I have also said that I do not believe in an absolute right to life. For all of us, our rights to life are qualified.

    I could be wrong but the only interpretation for your stance that I can think of beyond a misunderstanding of my position is that you do not believe it possible for any court, including the one I posit that protects all of our rights in an individualist libertarian framework, to justly protect that woman’s rights.

    You are determined to avoid allowing any opportunity for an individualist court to hear a case. You are insisting that because the woman is undeniably a person, the lesser human must not be given any opportunities. Period. You do not believe justice can be rendered by a court and therefore must prevent the process.

    Is this not the outcome you are advocating for?

  • Ivan-

    Thanks for trying to reverse-engineer Midwesterner’s position. Unfortunately, as of now that’s about the best we can do to keep it on the table since he seems unwilling to spell it out in any detail.

    What you say with regard to ranking of rights makes sense. The reason I have trouble with it is because bodily integrity has always been a fundamental right for me, never a secondary one.

    If one accepts the principle that in such situations, the certainty of human status outweights any consideration of the heaviness of the rights violation, one could indeed be tempted to start restricting the definition of humanity for nefarious purposes.

    Yes, but it seems to me that the same danger is associated with relegating bodily integrity to secondary status. Are we, for example, allowed to compel people to donate organs?

    This line of reasoning also naturally leads to my previous argument about infanticide. Since we can reasonably doubt the status of the infant as an individual with rights, the principle of giving priority to the undisputed property rights of parents would lead us to accept infanticide (at least by abandonment)

    Fine, but Midwesterner’s position (to the extent we can guess at it) also leads to the absurd conclusion that physical development plays no role in legal status, which simply cannot be true. We do not condone sex with minors for the very good reason that they are neither sexually nor mentally developed enough to give informed consent. Midwesterner thinks he can get around this by suggesting a regime of “citizenship,” but no one honestly believes that it should be illegal to have sex with a resident alien!

    More to the point, we haven’t been given a good reason why conception is any less arbitrary a definition of when personhood begins than birth or even “oh, you know, sometime while still in the womb.” As far as I can tell, the justification is more or less the one I gave for using birth: because it’s “the least philosophically confusing.” I haven’t heard any independent motivation for adopting conception as the dividing line aside from “that’s when there’s new DNA.” Great – so if we string some together in a lab, that’s a person? Even if it’s never put in a condition where it could grow into an actual person?

    In short, there are lots of unanswered questions with Midwesterner’s position. I hope he will spell it out at some point, but as time passes it seems increasingly unlikely that he will. That’s a shame as this thread was created at least in part so that he could do so.

  • Ok – I failed to hit preview before that went up.

    Glad to see you’re still around. I have outlined some questions I have in the previous comment. I also believe this comment addresses your “court” interpretation of my position, but if it does not let me know and I will write more.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    What you say with regard to ranking of rights makes sense. The reason I have trouble with it is because bodily integrity has always been a fundamental right for me, never a secondary one.

    I heartily agree with that position. But not all violations of bodily integrity are of the same degree — one could argue that those that are temporary and non-lethal shoud be assigned a significantly smaller weight in these “least evil”-type calculations. Temporarily confiscating someone’s reproductive system is bad, but not as bad as reducing someone’s entire body to a bloody pulp. (We are now getting to an essentially utilitarian approach, but unfortunately such an approach is the only reasonable way to go when all alternatives seem to include at least some rights violations.)

    Yes, but it seems to me that the same danger is associated with relegating bodily integrity to secondary status. Are we, for example, allowed to compel people to donate organs?

    There is a subtle, but crucial difference here. Forcing person A to donate an organ to save person B’s life is clearly unacceptable from a rights-based perspective — but this is because we assume that the lives of A and B are not intertwined otherwise. A is not guilty for B’s condition and has no active influence on his fate. Thus, the available options here are: (1) violation of A’s rights/undeserved benefit to B; and (2) no consequences for A/no rights violations of B — merely a refusal to grant B what he isn’t entitled to. Thus, there is no ambiguity here as far as the rights-based approach is taken (rather than utilitarian).

    However, in the case of abortion, the situation is much more complicated. If we were considering forced organ donation in a situation where A somehow actively caused B’s present state, and where due to special circumstances, we can only choose between either A making an active effort to save B or A having B killed actively and violently (rather than just dying a preventable, but spontaneous death), we would get to the same complications as with abortion.

    More to the point, we haven’t been given a good reason why conception is any less arbitrary a definition of when personhood begins than birth or even “oh, you know, sometime while still in the womb.” As far as I can tell, the justification is more or less the one I gave for using birth: because it’s “the least philosophically confusing.” I haven’t heard any independent motivation for adopting conception as the dividing line aside from “that’s when there’s new DNA.” Great – so if we string some together in a lab, that’s a person? Even if it’s never put in a condition where it could grow into an actual person?

    Unfortunately, as we’ve both remarked several times until now, there are no answers to these questions that would be both clear and rational. This is one of those sad areas of human affairs where whatever norms people choose to follow, they will always seem irrational, disturbing, and unfair if one doesn’t share their entirely subjective worldview.

  • Midwesterner

    As my very last statement on the thread that lead to this one, I said -

    Funny. I never intended to keep it a secret. It’s just that the process is what matters. If the process is sound, the product will follow. See you on the next thread.

    Steven Groeneveld gave the clearest description I’ve heard yet.

    A clump of cells in the womb are a full human being, as their DNA are fully formed and working on the program to build a complete human being. A process that takes 20 or more years until most parts stop growing.

    I add to that, that without a voluntary act conception will not occur. It doesn’t happen to people just from walking down the street. You don’t get it from toilet seats. You have to actively do something to create this growing and developing blob.

    This is the most clear and rational bright line possible. By unanimous agreement of everyone on this thread, there is no obvious demarcation between conception and birth. And everybody here has been looking for one in good faith.

    The problem is not that new DNA is not rational or ‘binary’ or philosophically consistent. The problem is it is unsatisfactory to your preconceived (pun intended, some humor is good) idea of what the conclusion should be. The person(s) not stating their case here are the people that can’t make their case.

    I am always open to having my mind changed. When this happens, I come out of the situation stronger, not weaker. Wiser, not more foolish. Please, revert to your usual way of approaching issues by positing and testing facts. Convince me. I’ve found very rational, consistent and extensible principles for my conclusions.

    Steven G. said something else that I’ve heard in other forms from Perry.

    … principles that don’t work at the extremes aren’t worth a damn.

    A constitution and court that cannot be counted on to properly determine the relationship between a father, a mother and whatever that is inside her, cannot be counted on to determine anything else either. The only alternative to a trustworthy constitution and courts is anarchy.

  • But not all violations of bodily integrity are of the same degree — one could argue that those that are temporary and non-lethal shoud be assigned a significantly smaller weight in these “least evil”-type calculations.

    One could argue that, yes, but I would prefer to think of rights as absolute as far as possible. (It may turn out that we don’t have that option as regards abortion; indeed, it is looking increasingly like we don’t – but I’m going to keep trying until I’ve exhausted all avenues!) If rights are absolute, then any violations of bodily integrity are equal rights violations. I realize I’m not going to be able to maintain this position (rape is a bit more serious than just grabbing someone’s tits in the subway, after all) – but medical procedures and childbirth are the kinds of things that are pretty damn intrusive. But alright, fine, that doesn’t outweigh destroying a life, as you rightly point out. However…

    There is a subtle, but crucial difference here. Forcing person A to donate an organ to save person B’s life is clearly unacceptable from a rights-based perspective — but this is because we assume that the lives of A and B are not intertwined otherwise.

    True enough. However – the child only exists because the mother gave it existence, and it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of awareness as of the time it is born. Cognitive development has barely begun, as anyone who studies these things can tell you. So ‘A’ and ‘B’ don’t seem to be equal players in this. If we had some situation where ‘A’ and ‘B’ of the same stage in cognitive development and of the same clear legal status were intertwined and some non-trivial but still non-lethal/dangerous violation of A’s bodily integrity would save B’s life, then I suppose I would have to agree with you. But ‘B’ in this case is not developed, and indeed wouldn’t even exist without A in the first place, and that makes a big difference to me.

    Unfortunately, as we’ve both remarked several times until now, there are no answers to these questions that would be both clear and rational.

    Not that we can see, no – but Midwesterner claims to have an explanation that is both clear and rational as to why “DNA formation” is the crucial, indisputable line at which a “person” gains full rights – so let’s see what he has to say on this.

  • Damnit – that time I DID hit preview to see if MW had posted anything, and nothing showed up!

  • I add to that, that without a voluntary act conception will not occur. It doesn’t happen to people just from walking down the street. You don’t get it from toilet seats.

    What if you make it in a lab but never drop it in someone’s womb? Are the scientists who put it together guilty of manslaughter if they drop the beaker? I’m not being flippant – I’m trying to pump intuitions about how much value people actually put on DNA alone.

    I’ve found very rational, consistent and extensible principles for my conclusions.

    So what are they? From several of our points of view, you want to violate a woman’s right to bodily integrity for a handful of cells that there doesn’t seem to be any indepdent reason to treat as a person.

    In fact, we have good reason to believe that development plays a role in legal status. I repeat now the example I gave to you earlier: we do not let children make medicial decisions for themselves or sexual decisions at all – for developmental reasons. Rights change as you mature. It cannot be the case that DNA alone guarantees one the full spread of rights we give adults. So we do, in fact, need some more motivation for treating the blob of cells as something with a right to life strong enough to violate the mother’s bodily integrity.

    The person(s) not stating their case here are the people that can’t make their case.

    I have yet to hear from you any motivation for the DNA line that is any better than the line we gave for birth. It’s the “least philosophically confusing.” It seems to me that you are on no better footing than the rest of us with this. We are concerned about the woman’s right to bodily integrity (a fundamental right), you are concerned about the right to life (a fundamental right). Since it is obvious that development plays a role in what rights we recognize in a person, then I think we cannot simply define a woman’s right to bodily integrity away in the presence of mere DNA.

  • Midwesterner writes:

    As my very last statement on the thread that lead to this one, I said -

    Funny. I never intended to keep it a secret. It’s just that the process is what matters. If the process is sound, the product will follow. See you on the next thread.

    Right. But you also said this:

    I reached my conclusion from a mostly ambivalent point of veiw. I would be happy to discuss how I support my conclusions dispassionately, but that could be difficult for some people even here on Samizdata. If one of the contributors (or editors) chooses to open a thread on the topic, I will explain myself.

    Now, I have put some questions up about why we are allowed to write development out of this. It seems to me that development plays a role in what rights we decide to recognize. There are lingering questions about why “DNA” is the best line to draw, and I would like to hear answers to them. As it stands – as I have outlined in the comment above – it doesn’t seem to be any better than drawing the line arbitrarily anywhere else, and is indeed worse because it leads to violations of the woman’s right to bodily integrity in favor of a group of cells. This might be clear to you, but I (and others, I suspect) find it counterintuitve. So – please explain.

  • Midwesterner

    why we are allowed to write development out of this

    Because it’s not extensible. It doesn’t work at the extremes. There is no way to use it without inventing arbitrary reasons for not de-humanizing or de-personizing any number of people for any number of reasons.

    As Jacob said

    What seems impossible is – to draw the line based on basic principles and facts. Which is what we are interested in.

    and Ivan said

    It seems to me that the only way out of this is through some kind of utilitarian argument … But if you resort to an argument like this, it seems to me that you have to abandon the principled, rights-based approach that you’ve been arguing so far.

    and also

    It seems to me that this is indeed one of those issues where full-blown moral relativism is the only rational conclusion that can be drawn

    You keep repeating this point

    it leads to violations of the woman’s right to bodily integrity in favor of a group of cells

    without ever answering this one

    You do not believe justice can be rendered by a court and therefore must prevent the process.

    And one more thing Joshua, remember we’ve exempted cases of “rape, incest etc”, you say “Yes, and the right we are absolutely certain is present is the right of the mother to bodily integrity.”

    And I reply, the person we are certain has already had one opportunity to choose is the mother , the new human has had none.

  • Uain

    “Even Uain says “I’ll give you rape, incest, etc.” ”

    MW-
    Please forgive me, but the lads have been Smiting me recently, so I may sound a bit paranoid but… what does the qualifier “Even Uain says” *really* mean?

    Perry-
    Have you broken a postings record yet?

    OK now to the crux;
    You all are waxing eloquent (and I really mean it) on the woman and the baby, but I see precious little on the sperm donor. It takes two to Tango.
    Silly, weak women have been convinced by sleazy guys that it is all on them to bear the weight of abortion.

    1.) Women get pregnant.

    2.) Women have their hormones and body change radically to knit a new human being out of strands of DNA.

    3.) Women form the emotional attachment and desire to “nest” based on natural response to hormones.

    4.) Women suffer the anguish of deciding to abort.

    5.) Women suffer the chemical calamity in their bodies when the pregnancy is terminated (at any time after conception!)

    6.) Women get dumped when the sleazy guy abandons them in punishment for getting pregnant.

    7.) Women suffer the guilt for the rest of their lives, amplified dramatically during menopause.

    My position is that a little responsibility can go along way. As I posted before, invest the man in responsibility for his actions;
    - Determine paternity.
    - Make him financially liable to the woman whether she
    aborts or not (physical and mental health care, etc).
    - He must go before a judge to get released from his
    responsibility.

    Seems a little more manliness on the part of men is in order, voluntarily or not.

  • Gabriel

    It seems fairly clear that easily available abortion is essential if free-love is to be the generally applied doctrine of society. Clearly then libertines should support abortion.
    As for libertarians? I still cling to the idea that a free society will be more, not less, moral. I’m sticking to it as an article of faith and no militant atheist is going to dissuade me.

    On another note, if you kill a 36 year old have you changed who he was in any way, have you affected his prior experiences, thoughts, emotions at all? No.
    What have you done? Snuffed out a potential future life.
    What do you do when you abort an unborn child?

  • You keep repeating this point

    it leads to violations of the woman’s right to bodily integrity in favor of a group of cells

    Yes, because you keep not answering it. Development plays a role in what rights we allow people – clear as day.
    You are writing it out entirely, and violating someone’s rights in the process. At the very least, you need to explain why a clump of 2^n cells has a right to life that trumps a woman’s right to bodily integrity, but we are still on solid ground saying that children cannot be partners in sex because they haven’t yet developed to the point where it is permissible. I don’t think this is any greater a reductio ad absurdum of your position than your insistence that “forced eugenics” will result from mine.

    without ever answering this one

    You do not believe justice can be rendered by a court and therefore must prevent the process.

    I do not see how this is an objection? I have never said that I have a problem with getting a court involved (indeed, I agree with you – and probably should have said this – that the father, insofar as he may be hit up for child support, has a right to be informed) – just that I think the court should uphold the mother’s right to abort (more specifically, should uphold her right to abort after Roe v. Wade has been overturned and abortion is guaranteed through legislative means – but that is a side point). It is very much the same as free speech. I also believe in a pretty-near absolute right to free speech. This does not mean that First Amendment cases will never come before the court, just that I have a pretty definite opinion about how the court should decide when they do.

    Perry-
    Have you broken a postings record yet?

    I’m pretty sure we were well over 200 for that thread nearly a year ago when we were going back and forth with some Muslim about various things. I can’t remember the exact content – but it took up most of my Saturday night.

  • Midwesterner

    Uain, my perception which may be wrong, is that your position is the farthest to the ‘right’ of the informal quorum that is commenting this thread. It was my statement that even pretty conservative opinions acknowledge that a woman has a right to choose. We only differ on when and how often when another life is involved.

    I intended no offense and hope none was taken.

    Gabriel, your second paragraph is short but very telling. I’ll have to think on it a bit.

    Perry- Have you broken a postings record yet?

    I personally doubt we’re close, YET, but my experience is that the farther over 100 we get the more trouble I have keeping an orderly discourse. I forget who said what, when. We’re well into that phase for me, now.

    Joshua,

    I believe in the rights of Life, Liberty and Property.
    I believe they have to be recognized in that order to be meaningful.
    I believe you don’t hand out second chances at justice until everyone has had their first chance.
    I believe women (and men) have a right to choose and consensual means consensual.
    I believe without recognizing implied contracts we could never walk into a store, eat at a restaurant, ride on a bus, visit a friend, live!
    I believe when a reasonable person can predict a consequence that it is reasonable to expect them to adjust their conduct.
    I believe arbitrary rules lead to arbitrary rulers.
    I believe feelings do not equal morals.
    I believe a trustworthy system of justice is essential to liberty, anything less is tyranny or anarchy or fascism.
    I believe when you don’t know the answer you error on the side of Life, Liberty and Property, in that order.
    I believe new DNA is a new human.
    I believe Gabriel’s 2nd paragraph at 2:02.

    And mostly, again!
    I believe in the individual right to Life, Liberty and Property.
    and
    I believe arbitrary rules make arbitrary rulers.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    I would prefer to think of rights as absolute as far as possible. (It may turn out that we don’t have that option as regards abortion; indeed, it is looking increasingly like we don’t – but I’m going to keep trying until I’ve exhausted all avenues!)

    Absoluteness is required by definition when one constructs a rights-based argument, as opposed to a utilitarian one. As soon as one is ready to justify even the smallest violation of rights by some benefit to a certain party, no matter how high, one has already stepped onto the slippery (and very steep!) slope of utilitarianism. This is why I’ve been careful to differentiate between the rights-based arguments and the utilitarian ones so far.

    The problem with rights-based arguments, however, is that an inference based on rights enters a deadlock as soon as a situation arises where at least some rights violations are inevitable in any course of action — and this happens exactly because it has to treat rights as absolute. In such situations, one can only fall back on utilitarian or other non-rights-based arguments. Abortion is hardly the only issue where there exists such a conflict of rights that renders rights-based arguments largely impotent. Some authors argue — and I tend to agree with them — that situations where such conflicts exist account for the majority of human actions, so that any rights-based ethical approach necessarily results in contradictions if applied consistently (for an example, see this excellent essay by David Friedman).

    However – the child only exists because the mother gave it existence, and it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of awareness as of the time it is born. Cognitive development has barely begun, as anyone who studies these things can tell you. So ‘A’ and ‘B’ don’t seem to be equal players in this. [...]

    This is indeed true — but then we’re back to the problem that there is no a priori clear limit to increasing the age at which we are ready to consider the fetus/child as entitled to any individual rights. The above quoted claims are essentially as accurate for a very young child as for a fetus. Running in circles is indeed all that dispassionate and rational analysis can yield when it comes to this sad topic.

  • Ivan

    Uain:

    You all are waxing eloquent (and I really mean it) on the woman and the baby, but I see precious little on the sperm donor. It takes two to Tango. Silly, weak women have been convinced by sleazy guys that it is all on them to bear the weight of abortion. [7 points deleted...]

    Well, pregnancy and abortion affect only the woman’s body by an accident of biology, so I don’t see how any of these calamities can be blamed on “sleazy guys,” except the one that guys sometimes dump girls after abortion. But then I could reply by an anti-female tirade about how women sometimes behave towards their men equally badly or even worse (I don’t think particular examples even need to be pointed out). This discussion has so far been pretty calm and rational; I don’t see why you would want to turn it into a flame war of sexes.

    My position is that a little responsibility can go along way. As I posted before, invest the man in responsibility for his actions;

    - Determine paternity.
    - Make him financially liable to the woman whether she
    aborts or not (physical and mental health care, etc).
    - He must go before a judge to get released from his
    responsibility.

    And how would this be different from the current situation in most (all?) Western countries, except that you want to change the present system so that the man gets punished for the abortion? Currently, the father has no say whatsoever about whether the pregnancy will be aborted, but is held financially liable for the child if it’s born. Do you believe that’s fair? It seems like you would want to keep all power of control over the pregnancy in the woman’s hands (which is OK by itself!), but you insist on placing a punitive burden on the man in any case — as if the guilt can exist only on the man’s side.

    As for getting released from the responsibility for the child, a man will find it very difficult (or impossible) in practice, even if it turns out that he has been cuckolded.

  • Ivan

    Gabriel:

    It seems fairly clear that easily available abortion is essential if free-love is to be the generally applied doctrine of society. Clearly then libertines should support abortion.

    You’re something like 20 years late with this argument. :-) Most of today’s leftists that are active in various pro-choice political movements are rather morally uptight characters, inclined to puritanism much more than libertinism in almost all social issues. Among today’s Left, scarcely any vestiges remain of the free-love, sex-drugs-and-R’n'R libertinism that was prevalent 3 or 4 decades ago. The pro-abortion stance is one of the ossified dogmas from the old days of the Left that continue due to pure inertia, even though — as Perry remarked in the original post — it runs counter to the core of the philosophy they espouse nowadays.

  • ausblog

    I’m 98% pro-life and 2% pro-choice, though the 2% didn’t come easy.

    World estimations of the number of terminations carried out each year is somewhere between 20 and 88 million.

    3,500 per day / 1.3 million per year in America alone.

    50% of that 1.3 million claimed failed birth control was to blame.

    A further 48% had failed to use any birth control at all.

    And 2% had medical reasons.

    That means a stagering 98% may have been avoided had an effective birth control been used.

    Australia (with a population of 20 million) terminated over 100 thousand young people last year. I’ve done the figures and Australia do more per head.

    Abortion has got to be by far the Mother of all holicosts, the most extensive crime against humanity the world has ever seen.

    Though it pains me to say it but, there may always be a need for the 2% medical reasons and such, but that’s all.

    So how do we get the other 98% to be responsible……………….

    How do we get them to be honest with themselves, about when life begins.

    Everyone knows it starts at conception,

    egg+sperm = human being

    Sadly many frefer the odd termination over using birth control, they have all kinds of reasons, each of them selfish.

    Then there’s the christian impossition,(all a bit talibanish), and their men in high places.(church and state should never entwine) their stance against b/c has only added to the numbers.

    Sanity must provale, abortions should remain available and safe to the 2% and the rest need to have a good look at themselves and get their act together.

    Have you seen ( HOT OFF THE SHOW! Throw-away babies )

    It’s a blog by Sharon Hughes?

  • Jacob

    “there may always be a need for the 2% medical reasons”

    Here is a new question for Perry, Joshua, MW and the rest:
    Does a deformity or illness of the foetus justify an abortion ? We don’t kill deformed or handicapped children. Would you favour an abortion in the second or third trimester for, say, a foetus diagnozed with Down syndrome ?

    What I want to say is that there is a differnce between a foetus and a child.

  • Would you favour an abortion in the second or third trimester for, say, a foetus diagnozed with Down syndrome ?

    It is the woman’s decision as it is her body doing the incubating. She is within her rights to abort for this reason.

  • Midwesterner

    Would you favour an abortion in the second or third trimester for, say, a foetus diagnozed with Down syndrome ?

    or if it was a girl and you wanted a boy?

    or it had brown eyes and you wanted blue?

    or it would be average and you wanted a genious?
    Jacob, it’s pure moral relativism. Principles that don’t work at the extremes, aren’t principles. They’re arbitrary.

    You can’t hybridize principles and pragmatism. At some point, they’ll conflict and pragmatism wins. Which is the same thing as having no principles. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me much that most people want principles, but only when they yield the ‘right’ answer. That’s not principle. That’s arbitrary. As in arbitration.

    We have a right to [enter something here] and we just have to trust ‘common sense’ for the right thing to do.

    It’s been tried. This pragmatism is how we got Kelo. For the good of the ‘higher’ life form (community) at the expense of the ‘lesser’ (individual) one.

  • Ok – right – but just so that everyone is clear on this, there is nothing in Midwesterner’s system that prevents (once the technology is available, and there is reason to think that it will be in our lifetimes) designer children per se. We are free to splice genes together and make the zygotes we want, then implant them in someone’s womb, given the tools to do so. So the DNA line will not prevent people picking and choosing the children they want, it just enforces a method by which the design has to take place (because the abortion method results in unjustified killing, etc.).

    i suspect Midwesterner will be happy to admit this, so I’m really just nitpicking, but since it isn’t clear in his post I thought I should add it. It is not inconceivable (pun not intended) that in the future the majority of people will not have children in the natural way at all for fear of things like Down Syndrome. They will, instead, opt to engineer children, an outcome that none of the systems presented here can prevent or seeks to prevent.

    The reason I bring this up is because I think it illustrates that these lines in Midwesterner’s comment:

    or if it was a girl and you wanted a boy?

    or it had brown eyes and you wanted blue?

    or it would be average and you wanted a genious?

    are in some sense irrelevant. You have to first be convinced that the foetus has full rights for them to make any sense as comparisons. They make no difference as outcomes because the partents are still free to choose, once the technology has become available, not to have brown-eyed children etc. You need more than bans on abortion, in other words, to prevent eugenics.

  • Ok – right – but just so that everyone is clear on this, there is nothing in Midwesterner’s system that prevents (once the technology is available, and there is reason to think that it will be in our lifetimes) designer children per se. We are free to splice genes together and make the zygotes we want, then implant them in someone’s womb, given the tools to do so. So the DNA line will not prevent people picking and choosing the children they want, it just enforces a method by which the design has to take place (because the abortion method results in unjustified killing, etc.).

    I suspect Midwesterner will be happy to admit this, so I’m really just nitpicking, but since it isn’t clear in his post I thought I should add it. It is not inconceivable (pun not intended) that in the future the majority of people will not have children in the natural way at all for fear of things like Down Syndrome. They will, instead, opt to engineer children, an outcome that none of the systems presented here can prevent or seeks to prevent.

    The reason I bring this up is because I think it illustrates that these lines in Midwesterner’s comment:

    or if it was a girl and you wanted a boy?

    or it had brown eyes and you wanted blue?

    or it would be average and you wanted a genious?

    are in some sense irrelevant. You have to first be convinced that the foetus has full rights for these statements to make any sense as comparisons. They make no difference as outcomes because the partents are still free to choose, once the technology has become available, not to have brown-eyed children etc. You need more than bans on abortion, in other words, to prevent eugenics.

  • Midwesterner

    How could terminating diseases not be inestimably better than terminating the people who have them? That seems to me a no brainer.

    But in no sense does it render those lines irrelevant. People buy color contacts and change their eye color all the time. There are many options available. Choosing eye color for you child is very reasonable.

    But to kill an unborn child for having brown eyes? How could that be irrelevant to my principles?

    And have pity on the poor racists. If skin color is chosen for practical reasons, like wanting to live somewhere warm and sunny, how will racists know who to hate? Coming from a family where every single one of my dad’s siblings and cousins had some form of skin cancer (pretty sure, can’t think of any who didn’t) I could easily see the wisdom of choosing darker skin.

    An additional benefit of the method of reproduction you posit is that most likely everyone will have their reproductive systems rendered sterile while still operable. (Tubal ligation?) Zero unplanned pregnancies when it requires a procedure to retrieve an egg and create a zygote.

    Good principles allow much freedom while still protecting everyone. Yes, you’re right. At this point I see no problem with genetic engineering our selves or our offspring provided that the offspring receives the same protections as naturally conceived humans.

  • Uain

    “Uain, my perception … ” Thank you for the kind words MW. I was just joking about the paranoia.

    I must admit that this is truly a fascinating thread, thanks to the well considered arguments from the contributors.

    Ivan said-
    “Well, pregnancy and abortion affect only the woman’s body ”

    Not quite, how about the baby’s body that must be sacrificed? If she gave up her body for a few minutes of pleasure, why should the baby give up hers forever?

    But my view is that her decision (to save or abort) is not made in a vacuum. Most women choose to have sex with a man because they perceive that the man would be a good mate/ provider. It is the perception that the man rejects his own offspring, which will cause the woman to consider abortion as opposed to being abandoned in her time of need. Then the complex re-evaluation commences on both parties;

    - The woman realizes that a man who rejects his own offspring is probably not such a good mate after all.

    - The man is filled with shame at his unmanliness, and blames the woman for his predicament.

    Net is that few relationships last very long after an abortion. So my view is that the man should be a stake holder, if even to an extremely small extent (ie; financially vs. having your whole body and psyche involved as with the woman and baby/ cells). I am convinced that abortion would indeed be rare if men thought with their big head instead of their little head.
    I was always taught that if you are willing to sleep with her, make sure first you could marry her if it came to that.

  • Midwesterner

    Just to anybody interested, I’ve had a comment held for smite control. It will appear somewhere between Joshua’s at 3:10PM and Uain’s at 3:25AM.

    Somehow, I think I missed the curfew for posting comments in need of moderation and I don’t expect to see it until it’s morning in the UK.

    And now to bed (midwest) time.

  • Ivan

    But my view is that [the woman's] decision (to save or abort) is not made in a vacuum. Most women choose to have sex with a man because they perceive that the man would be a good mate/ provider.

    Well… in many cases, women also have sex with men out of pure lust, without much thinking about consequences, just like men stereotipically (and indeed very frequently) do with women. But admittedly such cases are mostly limited to women’s interactions with a minority of alpha males and thus probably cause only a small percentage of unwanted pregnancies. So I guess we can focus on the most frequent case.

    It is the perception that the man rejects his own offspring, which will cause the woman to consider abortion as opposed to being abandoned in her time of need. Then the complex re-evaluation commences on both parties;

    - The woman realizes that a man who rejects his own offspring is probably not such a good mate after all.

    - The man is filled with shame at his unmanliness, and blames the woman for his predicament.

    Heh… but you completely ignore the possibility that the man might be a naive victim of contraceptive fraud. I agree that many men act like cads, making false promises to get sex and then run away from responsibilities. But I am equally sure that women also frequently perpetrate outright contraceptive fraud to force unwilling men into entering a permanent relationship and/or supporting them. So I think you’re highly biased when you consider only the (admittedly frequent) case when the man behaves like a cad. Punishing the man for abortion could be possibly argued to be fair only in that case — and in court, it’s normally impossible to determine what really happened. (By the way, common law courts have already set precedent that contraceptive fraud is not a defense against a child support claim, although it seems that a man still has some hope in case of outright sperm theft.)

    Furthermore, if a man is made liable for the outcome in any case — as he currently is only if the pregnancy is carried to term — then wouldn’t it be grossly unfair if the decision about whether the pregnancy will be terminated were an exclusive privilege of the woman? But try arguing that the man should have a say in the decision, and women will scream bloody hell. (Personally, I believe that the woman should definitively have an exclusive say, but I also favor minimizing, if not altogether abolishing the paternal responsibility, unless there is some evidence that the man has actually expressed willingness to impregnate the woman.)

    Net is that few relationships last very long after an abortion. So my view is that the man should be a stake holder, if even to an extremely small extent (ie; financially vs. having your whole body and psyche involved as with the woman and baby/ cells). I am convinced that abortion would indeed be rare if men thought with their big head instead of their little head.
    I was always taught that if you are willing to sleep with her, make sure first you could marry her if it came to that.

    It wouldn’t be as rare as you probably think — in most countries, a significant percentage of abortions is obtained by married women even nowadays (for concrete numbers, see Table 4 in this article). Not to mention that in a society with less extramarital sex, marriage rates would surely be higher, and thus many more unwanted pregnancies would occur among married women.

    As for your general scolding of men — it’s not like your claims are without basis, but I can’t resist replying that the number of abortions would also be significantly reduced if women gave up attempts to use pregnancy as a fraudulent tool to capture men who are obviously unwilling to do more than have some fun with them.

  • But to kill an unborn child for having brown eyes? How could that be irrelevant to my principles?

    It is relevant to your principles; it is irrelevant to anyone you are trying to convince. That it is this latter that I was talking about is evident from my wording:

    You have to first be convinced that the foetus has full rights for these statements to make any sense as comparisons.

    I liked this statement of yours:

    At this point I see no problem with genetic engineering our selves or our offspring provided that the offspring receives the same protections as naturally conceived humans.

    But I would have prefered something along the lines of a retraction of this earlier statement:

    I may, (or may not of, this thread is so long I can’t remember) said above that ‘means testing’ fetuses to qualify them for life leads philosophically to forceable eugenics.

    It is abundantly clear at this point that your system offers no more protection against “forceable eugenics” than anyone else’s. Indeed, it is the woman’s right to control what happens to her body that prevents forceable eugenics (she also has the right to choose to bring a child to term, after all, or in a future system where genetic engineering is fully possible, the right to have a child in the old-fashioned way) – not elevating the legal status of DNA to full immunity.

    But then of course, I am also still unclear as to what your system has to say about the following situations – raised but never answered, elaborated on here:

    If a lab worker drops a beaker with human DNA in it and kills it (or inadvertantly kills it in any way, in spite of whatever precautions are taken), is he really guilty of manslaughter? Or willful negligence, or whatever? It seems that any society which adopts your principles on this will have to arrest him. Human DNA, after all, has a full right to life in your system. Indeed – are we allowed to discard DNA that we spliced together incorrectly by mistake, or is this also killing? Are we required to put every such science project in a womb and let it develop lest we deprive it of its right to life? Would a woman at this point have the right to refuse to accept DNA that she knows has been mistakenly spliced together in a way she didn’t specify (say, the tests show the zygote will have some sort of congential defect that might lead to breast cancer)?
    Development seems to play a role in the recognition of almost every other right. We do not, for example, allow children to take sex partners for the very good reason that they are not mature enough. (This is not simply sexual maturity – most 13-year-olds are ready to go, but we feel their cognition is not sufficiently advanced, etc.) We also do not allow them to make medical decisions for themselves, to own and manage businesses, etc. What is it about the right to life that makes it different? Why should it alone begin at conception? Why is it not a right that also develops, growing in scope as the foetus matures, as Perry and others have suggested?

    Now, you can say that I am concerned here with consequences and not principles, but I think that will not do. #1 deals with situations that arise or will arise in real life and will have to be handled in some way. #2 deals with fundamental questions of what rights are and how we get them. How does a society that has adopted your principles answer these questions? (I feel that #1 casts doubt on the wisdom of drawing the line at conception; #2 is something that I don’t know how to answer myself and would need to hear a good discussion of before I chose to adopt a pro-life viewpoint.)

  • Apologies – for some reason my list didn’t come out in the final version. ‘#1′ refers to questions about the status of DNA in a lab before it is implanted in a woman. It covers everything up to “…breast cancer)?”

    ‘#2′ is the rest of that paragraph (starting with “Development…”).

    I thought I had formatted them in an html ordered list, but maybe I forgot to close a tag or something. I was flagged for smite control on that comment and so didn’t see it immediately after posting.

  • Midwesterner

    It is abundantly clear at this point that your system offers no more protection against “forceable eugenics”

    It absolutely does. I think it was Paul that in an unrelated thread a few days ago mentioned Swedish eugenicists forcibly sterilizing brown eyed persons at some time in the past. I don’t know if that’s true, but I have no reason to doubt him.

    Voluntary eugenics is when parents choose to have a green eyed baby by genetic engineering. Forcible eugenics is when the decide to have a green eyed baby by aborting until they get one. If the aborted children are human, which they are, it’s forcible to them.

    Voluntary eugenics is a potential parent who chooses not to create children because s/he carries a genetic condition they don’t want to pass on. Forcible eugenics is when ‘defective’ persons are removed from society. Most notoriously that happened in Germany’s purification regime, but I’m sure it happens a lot more than we realize.

    If a lab worker drops a beaker with human DNA in it

    With a zygote in it. I pointed out earlier, our bodies shed DNA all the time. And no, I don’t see how it is any different than any other medical mishap. When was the last time you saw a medical professional criminalized for procedural mishaps? They happen, unfortuantely, with frequency. The civil system will work as well in this case as it does in any other medical cases.

    You are taking the discussion into an area that requires some understanding of embryonic stem, adult stem, fully differentiated, and a great many steps in between.

    Please realize that DNA that is capable of becoming a complete human is very rare and unique. This is why it was such a big deal when Dolly the sheep was cloned. Gene manipulation in mammals is a difficult and complicated process that I hope is carefully proven in lower life forms (like Dolly) before we have genetic manipulation of humans.

    Fully differentiated DNA has a least two gigantic obstacles to becoming a complete human. One is the stage of differentiation, the other is the number of times a cell can safely divide as effected by telomeres. But when researchers think they have a safe and proven system and yet occasionally something does go wrong, yes, it is a life and needs all the protections that the law provides for a ‘normal’ human.

    Development seems to play a role in the recognition of almost every other right. We do not, for example, allow children to ….

    You may be confusing rights with protections. We do not allow those things in pursuit of the child’s protection, not the child’s destruction. We do not sterilize children permanently because they are not yet fully prepared for procreation.

  • Midwesterner

    Woops. I’ve been held for smite control again. It should be up shortly.

  • Midwesterner

    I should have said ‘as related to telomeres’. We still don’t know how they effect things. As pointed out in the wiki link, at least one seabird’s telomeres get longer with age. There is so much we don’t know.

  • Voluntary eugenics is when parents choose to have a green eyed baby by genetic engineering. Forcible eugenics is when the decide to have a green eyed baby by aborting until they get one. If the aborted children are human, which they are, it’s forcible to them.

    Oh, no, I don’t think that’s what you meant when you said it the first time at all. When you gave the line I quoted you were refering back to this earlier statement of yours:

    Emotions, a soul, any number of similar subjective characteristics can also be found or posited in animals with equal confidence. Rational doesn’t cut it. Using that standard not only leads to eugenics, it leads to a government body deciding what constitutes ‘rational’. Oh the horror.

    That’s hardly a use of “eugenics” concerned with the distinction between “engineering” DNA and aborting for genetic convenience. It is, instead, a very general use concerned with the political implications of letting the government set “who lives and who dies” policies. You have shifted your terms.

    When was the last time you saw a medical professional criminalized for procedural mishaps? They happen, unfortuantely, with frequency. The civil system will work as well in this case as it does in any other medical cases.

    Doctors are frequently sued for huge sums of money for malpractice, and there is such a thing as criminal negligence that has been applied to doctors. A simple google search will net you some examples. These things seem inappropriate to inadvertantly killing zygotes. But fine, I’ll switch my terms to “the civil system” so that you may answer the real question – which is whether inadvertantly killing a zygote should be handled in the same way as inadvertantly killing an adult and with the same penalties (penalties which sometimes involve prison terms, as illustrated in my link and several others you can easily find on Google)?

    I notice you have also chosen not to answer the question about whether a woman has the right to refuse implantation of a zygote that she comissioned but was engineered incorrectly by mistake. Since a zygote is a human with full rights in your system, such refusal would be tantamount to murder, no?

    You may be confusing rights with protections.

    I am not. All of the things listed are rights when applied to adults. We deny those rights to children for their protection, which just goes to show that children have diminished rights.

    We do not allow those things in pursuit of the child’s protection, not the child’s destruction.

    This is a dodge. The question at hand is whether “the child” is a “child” in the legal sense at all. Development plays a role in legal status, including in whether or not an entity has full rights. Many children’s rights are diminished because children are deemed (correctly, I believe) insufficiently developed to handle the decisions involved. Children’s parents have the final say on their medical decisions, for example. You say this is a protection, and you’re correct as far as that goes. But such a protection is, you’ll agree, inappropriate for a cognitively developed adult, and when a doctor ignores an adult patient’s medical wishes because he disagrees with them we call it paternalism and speak of a violation of rights. No one speaks of parents violating their children’s rights when they make medical or financial decisions for them, and that’s because we do not recognize that children have full rights. Full rights come with full development. The question is why the right to life is not similar? How do we know that it is absolutely present to the extent that we are required to deny a woman control of her body to protect it when we routinely recognize, in other cases, that conditions have to develop before full rights can apply?

  • A comment of mine is currently held in smite control.

    It alleges that Midwesterner did not answer the question of whether a zygote in a glass gets all the protections of a “normal” human. In fact, he answered it, and I seemed to have inadvertantly skipped over that sentence in my first read over his comment. The relevant sentence is here:

    But when researchers think they have a safe and proven system and yet occasionally something does go wrong, yes, it is a life and needs all the protections that the law provides for a ‘normal’ human.

    So, presumably, this means that insofar as doctors can be charged with manslaughter for accidentally killing adults, the same happens with zygotes in beakers. I personally find that absurd, but Midwesterner is nothing if not consistent.

    Anyway – sincere apologies for having missed that bit. I retract all relevant statements in the upcoming comment.

    However – I would still like an answer, if you don’t mind, to the question of whether it’s tantamount to murder if a woman commissions a designed zygote, but the end product gets botched somehow, and she then refuses to allow it into her womb to gestate. Did she kill it? Should she go to jail? Is it enough if someone else agrees to take it? What if no one can be found?

  • Midwesterner

    Point taken on my use of ‘eugenics’ inconcisely. I tried to correct this in my later posts by specifying ‘forcible’ eugenics. I obviously think ending genetic diseases is a good thing. The statement refering to “rational” and [s/b 'forcible'] “eugenics“, was in reference to abortion and other people trying to determine who is entitled to live. I can see how my not being more concise lead to confusion.

    But Joshua, every now and then you say something that amazes me. You say “We deny those rights to children for their protection,” and equate it to denying rights to fetuses.

    You are equating delaying free exercise of rights until a human is more mature with preventing the human from from living until they are more mature.

    Most people, including very many who support abortion, oppose any form of genetic manipulation. My principles permit it, but with the caution due a human life.

    Your question suggests the trial and abort method of genetic engineering. If someone is not willing to face whatever the risk of raising a unsatisfactory child is, then either the method of engineering needs to be improved or the person desiring a child needs to stick to conventional means.

    I would expect genetically engineered children should have a lower risk of defects than natural ones. Isn’t that the basic point?

  • Midwesterner

    ‘nother smite. Next comment coming soon to a location near you.

  • I’m getting flagged by smite-control a lot too recently. I think it has something to do with this word that involves selective breeding. We could agree on a codeword, but I suspect this next post by yours will be one of the last on this thread so no point. Has been fun though, and thanks for all the comments. I’ve had a good, long, detailed rethink of my position on abortion.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve had a good, long, detailed rethink of my position on abortion.

    As have I. And will probably continue to have for a while. I have held the principle of no holds barred individualism (both my own and other’s rights to their own lives) for some time, but haven’t bothered to pursue to extremes things that don’t effect me immediately. There is so much else also interesting to discover and apply.

    While Individualism ensconsed in Life, Liberty and Property is my core belief, my core concern is that arbitrary rules make arbitrary rulers. I am willing to put up with some rules that don’t compell my emotional support, and maybe even make my life more difficult, in order to live a life with principles. I think pragmatism in any form ultimately leads to unavoidably nihilist positions.

  • Uain

    Ivan said-
    “Well… in many cases, women also have sex with men out of pure lust”

    1.) Call me old fashioned, but I would say that such women should be required to carry the child to term and then give up for adoption, with her getting the renumeration instead of the slimy lawyers, of course. There are many barren couples who would love to adopt.

    “Heh… but you completely ignore the possibility that the man might be a naive victim of contraceptive fraud.”

    I was never so attractive to have had that problem. I was 28 when I married and damn grateful to this day. But at the same time, the guy must show a little wisdom to insure he mates with some one worthy. Stupidity not withstanding, he should still be responsible.
    As a conservative right wing Christian, I view the man as having the most responsibility, as decreed by God, in these matters. So if your weakness is to fornicate and it ends up that you procreate, then at least you should be man enough to be a father to your offspring.

    “(for concrete numbers, see Table 4 …”

    Ivan-
    This is from the Alan Guttmacher Institute. They are the “research” arm of Palanned Parenthood, so they have a financial interest in abortion. Just an observation, no judgement. My observations of 24 years amongst the married is that married women are very unlikely to get abortions. Yes some may, but numbers or percentages are tiny. But if you take results and sort by politics, religion, etc, then you could get widely divergent sets of numbers, I am sure.

    “… if women gave up attempts to use pregnancy as a fraudulent …”

    Again, I submit that you are probably alot better looking than me, to have such concerns. For the majority of us, I doubt this is an issue … well maybe not if some women perceive money as an inducement to this behaviour (Paul McCartney and every other weathy old sod). Anyway, I really appreciate your well reasoned posts.

    Joshua and MidWesterner-
    You lads have been having quite an interesting thread.
    I have to admit I am more with MW on this one but you (Joshua) are bringing up some good points.

    “…whether it’s tantamount to murder if a woman commissions a designed zygote, but the end product gets botched somehow…”

    My vote would be for murder. If one toys with the natural order of life for one’s own pathetic desires, then destroy that life because it does not meet some arbitrary selfish standard, then murder it is.

    Hmmmm, sounds like this could be applied to abortion in general? Or is that too general?

    best regards..

  • Ivan

    Uain:

    [Quoting me:] “Heh… but you completely ignore the possibility that the man might be a naive victim of contraceptive fraud.”

    I was never so attractive to have had that problem. [...] For the majority of us, I doubt this is an issue … well maybe not if some women perceive money as an inducement to this behaviour (Paul McCartney and every other weathy old sod).

    Of course, due to the very nature of the phenomenon, it’s impossible to reliably estimate how frequent contraceptive fraud really is. From my personal observations, I find the rate of contraceptive failure among unmarried couples in medium- and long-term relationships to be strikingly high (even though, as an engineer, I know very well that nothing is immune to accidental failure). In at least some of these cases, I am very much tempted to conclude that women have willfully engineered the impregnation to permanently settle their status.

    Furthermore, these days, a man certainly doesn’t have to be extremely handsome or rich to be valued as a good catch by women whom he isn’t much interested in marrying. Due to the social and legal changes in the Western world in recent decades, marriage has become an increasingly unfavorable deal for men. Thus, women are finding it increasingly difficult to find even men of attractiveness similar to theirs — let alone extraordinary ones — willing to commit permanently.

    But at the same time, the guy must show a little wisdom to insure he mates with some one worthy. Stupidity not withstanding, he should still be responsible.
    As a conservative right wing Christian, I view the man as having the most responsibility, as decreed by God, in these matters. So if your weakness is to fornicate and it ends up that you procreate, then at least you should be man enough to be a father to your offspring.

    You may take it as God’s decree that a man should engage in sex only with presumption that he must take full responsibility in case of pregnancy. But if one doesn’t resort to revelation, one can equally espouse (no pun intended) the reverse principle — that the woman should not expect man’s responsibility unless the man has somehow explicitly accepted such responsibility in exchange for sex. The woman also chooses to engage in fornication of her own free will.

    So I guess here we can at most agree to disagree over what kind of implicit deal one should be considered to accept by engaging in sex. My view (admittedly as subjective as yours) is that if women want absolute autonomy over their sexual and reproductive activities — as most of them indeed do, and which they indeed have obtained nowadays, and to which I have no objection per se — then it’s hypocritical to simultaneously blame and punish men for the results of their fornicatory excursions.

    [Re: statistics showing that a significant percentage of abortions is obtained by married women] This is from the Alan Guttmacher Institute. They are the “research” arm of Palanned Parenthood, so they have a financial interest in abortion. Just an observation, no judgement. My observations of 24 years amongst the married is that married women are very unlikely to get abortions. Yes some may, but numbers or percentages are tiny.

    However, the numbers in this document are not based on their supposed findings. They are mostly taken from governmental statistics, which are of course far from perfect, but still usually more reliable than personal observations (unless perhaps you happen to work in a profession where you have special access to relevant information).

    Anyway, I really appreciate your well reasoned posts.

    Thanks. I also respect your honest and principled position, despite the disagreements.

  • Midwesterner

    Uain, I think your’s and my positions are as close as a hummingbird is to a hummingbird moth. They look very similar, they sound very similar, their feeding is very similar. To a casual observer the bird and the moth can be almost indistinguishable.

    But they aren’t even in the same phylum, much less class, order, family, genus, or species.

    I believe quite strongly that agnosticism is the only way people of differing religious beliefs can interact peacefully. My guess is that my principles for how we should govern ourselves will, as a general pattern, probably fall much closer to Joshua’s than your’s, as your’s seem to have a rather strong religious basis.

    For example, I’m a hard line individualist, You apparently oppose things that may be ‘selfish’. In fairness, your meaning may be clouded by the use of the word “selfish“. I’ve searched and thought for a word that describes suicidally preditory that I can use for someone who would destroy the fabric of peaceful interaction for selfish reasons, and I haven’t found a good one yet. But ‘selfish‘ is not the appropriate word for it. ‘Suicidally stupid’ seems more fitting though less concise.

    Selfish‘ seems to me a wholly useless word. It means something far out of line with its deeper logical meaning. What it really is used for is an unwillingness to recognize others and their rights. I consider recognizing others and their rights to be very much in my own self interest.

    Another sample of our deeper disagreement, is your phrase –

    “If one toys with the natural order of life for one’s own pathetic desires … “

    Ending diseases when it is possible to do so with respect for human life, is one of my own “pathetic desires“.

    We differ.

    Ivan,

    Your position reminds me of ‘Animal Farm’.

    “But some are more equal than others.”

    If I understand your position correctly, women are permitted to have children by deception, but men are not. This is irrespective of whether or not men are held responsible when they have been deceived. Just an observaton.

    And to everyone in general, the obvious.

    Unless rape is institutionalized (as it is in some religions), the pro-abortion position cannot lay exclusive claim to the label “Pro-Choice”. It is entirely consistent for many of us who claim to be ‘pro-choice’ and simultaneously be ‘anti-abortion’.

  • Midwesterner

    And may I please again emphasize the importance of avoiding arbitraryness in any form, in this case pragmatism. It will lead to nihilism.

    Pragmatism is equivalent to religion in that it is different things to different people. Inevitably there will be conflicts between what is pragmatic as people have different values.

    Principles can not exist in a pragmatic structure. If, whenever there is a conflict between principle and pragmatism, it is resolved pragmatically, then principles do not exist. In pragmatic structures, decisions are made on a case by case basis. Pre agreement is impossible with pragmatism. No agreement can anticipate every possibility. Principles, however are extensible.

    The only solution to differing values in a pragmatic structure is force of some form. Either democratically elected force. Or despotic force. Pragmatism is fundamentally collective.

    Pragmatism is fundamentally destructive of Individualism. Even more so than religion. It is possible (though rare) for religious beliefs to have an acceptance of individualist principles and overlay additional principles on top of it. This is utterly impossible in pragmatism.

    I choose to accept some of the consequences that I don’t understand or feel emotionally bonded to as a small price to pay for having principles. The only possible alternative is nihilism.

  • Uain

    Ivan-
    I am an engineering scientist and adjunct academic, so my information is only from life experience. My friends and acquaintances have been agnostics, and Christians and Jews of varying degrees of religiosity and not a small number of Hindus. In my (limited) experience, I have never been aware of men or women commiting reproductive fraud because their agreement to marriage and commitment to said institution, had occured long before they became sanguine in their, er umm practice for procreation.

    MidWesterner,
    You are the only other person I am aware of who knows what a Hummingbird Moth is. I have them come to our flowers each spring and summer and they are impressive.
    Agnostics can only flourish in a Christian society. I think that the USA is still so free exactly because we are alarmingly religious. Christianity is tolerant because of Jesus. Islam is hateful and violent because of the teachings of Muhammed and Buddhism is indifferent because of the teachings of the Buddha. I would submit that your individualism is made possible by Christian philosophy that each person is of such individual worth that Jesus came to offer Himself for our sin and to become a personal Saviour. Even if an individiual does not believe this, the concept informs Western Culture. This cannot be said of the other cultures where the individual is held in comtempt or distrust. I note with interest how our friends from England and Europe on this blog chronicle their eroding freedoms. Something I believe mirrors Europes eroding Christian culture.

  • Midwesterner

    Agnostics can only flourish in a Christian society.

    Uain,

    As it is now, when the USA was founded, it was necessary for a successful candidate to be affilliated with a denomination. By far, most of the founders affiliated with the Episcopalian church (Church of England). Most Deists choose to associate with the Episcopalian church while holding Deistic personal beliefs.

    Considering that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln all held primarily Deist beliefs, and John Adams and John Quincy Adams were Unitarian (Unitarian Universalism is the religion generally associated today with those whose ideology developed from Deism.), I think it more accurate to state it the other way around-

    Christians flourish best in a society founded by thoughtful non true-believers who established a tolerant government, not a theocratic one. Christian theocracies do not have a particularly good track record. The Enlightenment came when Christian theocracy lost its grip.

    While I acknowledge that most Jewish and many Christian doctrines can permit fully individualist beliefs, our nation was clearly and unarguably founded on tolerance, not religion.

  • Agnostics can only flourish in a Christian society

    Living as I do in a society in which I would say agnostics are debatably in the majority, I am not so sure about that.

  • Ivan

    Uain:

    Agnostics can only flourish in a Christian society. I think that the USA is still so free exactly because we are alarmingly religious. Christianity is tolerant because of Jesus. [...] I would submit that your individualism is made possible by Christian philosophy [...]

    But how do you define an “agnostic”? This notion, much like “atheist,” is usually defined via lack of belief in anthropomorphic deities and their supposed revelations. However, I believe that all sides in debates over the role of religion in society vastly overestimate the importance of these particular beliefs. Virtually all people, regardless of their religiosity (in the classic sense of the word), have very strong metaphysical beliefs — a skeptic would say superstitions — mostly unrelated to what is commonly understood as religious dogmas. To the extent that people’s beliefs influence their behavior at all — an influence commonly overestimated, I would say, and manifesting itself primarily in their political preferences — this latter class of non-religious metaphysical beliefs is much more important.

    Now, you may plausibly argue that Christianity is beneficial for liberty because if people lose their Christian beliefs, they will tend to fill the void with non-religious metaphysical superstitions far more dangerous and destructive than the Christianity has ever been. I readily admit the validity of this argument in certain instances — for example, Marxism or nationalism are far worse superstitions than anything that could be plausibly interpreted as Christian. However, the problem is that when I observe the beliefs that are leading to the contemporary erosions of freedom, I don’t see much clash between them and Christianity. Today’s central metaphysical beliefs of the people — their secular religion, if you wish — are those about the State and its institutions. (The State itself surely isn’t a metaphysical phenomenon, but the arguments that people in general — from common folks to prominent scholars, especially the latter — use to attack or justify particular theories about its proper powers and policies are indeed rooted in pure metaphysical dogmas — skeptics would again say superstitions — no less than e.g. the early medieval disputes about the exact nature of Christ.)

    Thus, the important question here is: does Christianity really clash with those beliefs that nowadays tend to lead people towards embracing statist positions contrary to liberty? Unlike in the case of Marxism, I don’t believe that the answer is affirmative in the context of today’s Western countries. Except for some fringe types, among the Christians I don’t observe any significant opposition towards the strict regulation, omnipresent surveillance, and merciless micromanagement of every imaginable area of people’s lives, with the concerns such as “safety,” “harm reduction,” or “right not to be offended” given undisputable priority over personal freedom. To the extent that anyone opposes such trends, I certainly don’t see the Christians as such raising their voices.

    I note with interest how our friends from England and Europe on this blog chronicle their eroding freedoms. Something I believe mirrors Europes eroding Christian culture.

    Do you really think that the overall situation in the US is much better than in Europe? Sure, I’ll grant you lower taxes and unprecedented freedom of speech in the US (although the latter is a mere historical accident, based on precedents set by unusually liberal Supreme Court justices in the 1960s, about whom you probably don’t have a very high opinion otherwise). But I don’t see that the contemporary trends towards eroding freedom are any slower in the US than in Europe.

    (Due to lack of space and time, I won’t even try to argue that in some respects, most of Europe is much more free than the US, because these are not major legal and political issues that are easily pointed out, but rather a whole set of attitudes and customs — both formal and informal — that make me feel much more free and relaxed on the Eastern side of the Atlantic in many situations.)

  • Uain

    You both are presumably equating “Christian Society”
    with a theocratically controlled despotism, like Iran.

    As for the American Founders, they all agreed that the individual was endowed by their *creator* with rights and liberties on which no aristocrat could claim control. In 1775, this was a radical concept, and it was nurtured on US soil precisley because Christian Americans viewed God as the ultimate authority in their lives, not the King of England. I would argue that Washington et. al. were products of that American Christian society, which by the way had been swept by a religious revival in the 1740 -60′s so it was even more so. I also recall that when Thomas Jefferson started Washington DC schools, he used the Bible as a text book. Many of the founders of the American experiment were also very religious and it was their Christian views that allowed them to debate in good faith with their Agnostic and Deist co-founders. From what I have read, I find ther was plently of debate and even acrimony about the proper scope/ role of a central government, but I have never found anything that even suggested that they fought over religious doctrine.

  • Uain

    Ivan,
    I am reminded of the story in the old testament of Jacob and Esau, where a hungry Esau gave away his inheritance to Jacob for Jacob making a meal for him.
    This is a lesson on immediate gratification, which could apply to the original thread, but I want to apply this to your point on certain “christians” accepting government control of their lives and holding generally collectivist views.
    I would point out that these are formerly christian denominations which no longer preach Jesus as Saviour. And they to have given away their inheritance
    and surrendered their free will so that they can be seen as allies of ceaser.

  • Midwesterner

    Uain,

    Deists believe in ‘The Creator’. But they specifically do not believe in the deity of Christ. They could believe God was the ultimate authority, but they did/do not believe he is involved in ongoing changes or ‘program patches’ along the way. They believe(d) reason was the way to know God. Not revelation. If a Deist can ever be said to be a Christian, it is in the same way that someone may be a Confucian or a Maoist. It can be as someone that thinks the respective founders said some good things.

    If you are qualifying your statement as inclusive of this definition of ‘Christian’, then certainly the tolerance of Christ had substantial influence. But that is not what (most) Christian fundamentalists today are claiming.

    The United States of America was not founded on Christianity. It was founded on religious tolerance. While many of our nation’s founders may have been religious, the greatest among them, almost to a man, did not believe in the diety of Christ. You’re right, they probably didn’t fight over religious doctrine. It wasn’t a factor. The rules of engagement were without religious qualification. They were agnostic.

  • Ivan

    Uain:

    I am reminded of the story in the old testament of Jacob and Esau, where a hungry Esau gave away his inheritance to Jacob for Jacob making a meal for him.
    This is a lesson on immediate gratification, which could apply to the original thread, but I want to apply this to your point on certain “christians” accepting government control of their lives and holding generally collectivist views.
    I would point out that these are formerly christian denominations which no longer preach Jesus as Saviour. And they to have given away their inheritance
    and surrendered their free will so that they can be seen as allies of ceaser.

    But I’m not talking about the minority of churches that openly embrace modern leftist dogmas (i.e. the more “liberal” branches of Anglicanism and Protestantism), but about the vast majority of Christian churches in general. For start, the Catholic Church officially advocates statism on many issues, such as gun control, the drug war, economic policy, or freedom of speech offensive to religious sensibilities, to name only a few. I hope you are not an extreme Protestant who denies that Catholics are Christians, but even if you are, various Protestant denominations are barely any better. Most of them admittedly advocate freedom on certain issues and protest bitterly against statist policies that hurt them directly (for example, when the government wants to censor some of their messages as “hate speech,” or when messages contrary to their beliefs are taught as official truth in government schools). But how many of them, for example, denounce the drug war as the statist monstrosity that it really is? How many of them advocate freedom of speech grossly offensive to their beliefs? Which Christian churches denounce the general trend of increasing surveillance and micromanagement of people’s lives by the moder nanny state — except of course when they feel directly affected by such policies?

  • Uain

    Midwesterner-
    You bring up a sound point. I should perhaps refer to “Moralists”, people of various religious philosophies that while not identical, share enough to be compatible.
    From personal experience, I can say that true “fundamentalist” Christians are the most accepting of people. The problem is that the deranged minds of the leftists make bible believing christians to be monsters while the real monsters; fascists of various stripes, islamists, and an array of other violent kooks are deemed as just people who want to be understood.
    One example are the Fred Phelps nuts who protest at our soldiers funerals while the hapless media assure us that they are “christians”. These are kook leftists aping the leftist dogma of what their warped little minds tell them christians are supposed to be like. They are held up as objects of error by true fundamentalists and regarded as “the accuser of the bretheren”, a biblical term for satan.

    Ivan-
    I was raised a Catholic and have great love and respect for the Catholic church. My journey ended up in a bible believing Congregationalist church with an old fashioned hard headed, soft hearted preacher. My understanding of the bible says that those who believe on Jesus shall be saved. I can’t find anything about specific denominations. At the same time, I find many non-christians, Sikhs, Hindus and others to be people of good will and integrity that I am happy to associate with.
    Your point about “hate speech” is an insightful illustration of the utter stupidity of the present western elit(ists). If a christian church says homosexuality, abortion, etc, is sin and say we shall pray for you, the secular progressives go berserk. If an islamist kook says that the above don’t deserve to live and they will behead them, enslave them, etc., we are told it is our fault due to colonialism, racism, etc.. ad nauseum.
    So who then is the true threat to liberty?

  • ausblog

    If conception is NOT when life begins,and a clump of cells is just that and not a living human being.
    Then at least concider this-

    Soon after you were conceived you were no more than a clump of cells.
    This clump of cells was you at your earliest stage, you had plenty of growing to do but this clump of cells was you none the less. Think about it.
    Aren’t you glad you were left unhindered to develope further.
    Safe inside your mother’s womb until you were born.