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What about people who bomb abortion clinics in America?

When reading on the internet about Islamic terrorism, commenters often mention that there is also terrorism by Christian fundamentalists in America, where there have been bombings of abortion clinics and shootings of abortion providers.

How prevalent is this form of American domestic terrorism? In recent years there have been round about 15,000 – 20,000 murders in total per year in the US. How many of these were of abortion providers?

Guess now. Scribble your answer down.

If you had asked me a few months ago I would have said three or four murders per year.

Considered over the last fifteen years I was overestimating somewhat. According to the best-known pro-abortion organisation in the US, NARAL Pro-Choice America,

Since 1993, seven clinic workers – including three doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort, and a security guard – have been murdered in the United States. Seventeen attempted murders have also occurred since 1991.

That figure comes from a document published in December 2007. So far as I know the figures have not changed since then.

However the phrasing “Since 1993 seven abortion clinic workers have been murdered in the United States” could be re-arranged, with equal truth, to say that “since 1998 no abortion clinic workers have been murdered in the United States.”

The last such murder was ten years ago today.

When I first found out this fact I was surprised. Again and again I have read comments that assumed that this type of terrorism was less deadly than Islamic terrorism but was nonetheless a steadily lethal undercurrent of American life – a death here, a death there.

In the fight against any type of crime, no victory can ever be anything but temporary. The most you can ever say is that the trend is down. There have been several attempted murders of abortion providers during the last ten years and the fact that none of them have succeeded must owe something to mere chance. As has often been observed, the terrorist only has to get lucky once. However it does now seem probable there will be zero murders of abortion providers during the presidency of George W Bush. I doubt that he will be given much credit for this, though if the trend had been otherwise he would certainly have been given the discredit.

118 comments to What about people who bomb abortion clinics in America?

  • criminal

    I’d love to see a study into what percentage anti-abortionists are also the same nut jobs favour of capital punishment.

  • I would describe myself as an anti-abortionist in favour of capital punishment.

  • Laird

    I would describe myself as an anti-anti-abortionist in favor of capital punishment.

  • RAB

    My wife and I have no children.
    We didn’t want any and ensured the fact by using contraception. However if an “accident” had occured, we would have had the child, not believing in killing things except for food , self defence or during a War.
    I would pay good money to go Moose hunting with Sarah Palin for instance.
    But several of our friends have had abortions in their time, and they are no less friends in our eyes.
    Abortion is a personal choice that is none of my business until it becomes my business, and the choice I would make I have stated above.
    Like you Natalie, I had assumed that the number killed by fanatics was a tiny but constant background noise.
    I am very gratified to find how small the “noise” is.
    But it is the nature of Christianity to revere life and not to take it unlike another religion I could mention.

    Smoke ‘em if you’ve got them.
    That is all.

  • Gabriel

    I would describe myself as an anti-abortionist in favour of capital punishment.

  • Natalie,
    It isn’t just the numbers that is different. All Christian groups I can think of unreservedly condemn terrorist attacks on abortion clinics.

    There is none of the Islamic weaseling that the likes of CAIR and MCB indulge in.

  • Servius

    And how many nut-jobs that support abortion oppose capital punishment?

    If you’re offering to outlaw both abortion and capital punishment, I’ll take that deal in a heartbeat.

  • How many of those murderers are successful authors, college professors and education lobbyists like William Ayers?

  • RAB has already mentioned that, like me, he was surprised at the numbers. Can I ask whether other commenters (whether pro-or anti-abortion) were suprised as well? Did anyone obey my injunction to guess before looking and scribble down their guess? Of course I might be wrong in my impression that it is not widely known that there hasn’t been a murder of an abortion provider since midway through Clinton’s second term, and I realise that Samizdata is scarcely a representative sample of the public, but I would be interested.

  • Spiny Norman

    How many of those abortion clinic bombings and murders were at the hand of now-imprisoned-for-life Eric Rudolph? Most, if not nearly all of them.

  • Kevin B

    How many pro-abortionists who are vehemently opposed to capital punishment would cheerfully murder George W, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove?

    This sort of terrorism arises from a mileu. A sizable group of people with a greivance, real or imagined, amongst which there is a minority who convince themselves and each other that they are forced by circumstances to take the law into their own hands. The old “They made me do it!” excuse.

    Usually there is a true psycopath driving the violence.

    Thankfully, the anti-abortionists seem to contain only a small, and apparantly shrinking, core of extremists and, because they are predominantly Christian, their behavior is somewhat constrained. About the BDS sufferers I’m less sure.

    Oh and Natalie. No one told me there would be a test and the dog ate my homework.

  • Dom

    Surprised? Not too much. I’ve always assumed that a murder at an abortion clinic would be heavily covered in the MSM, and since I haven’t seen much about it, I assumed it wasn’t happening.

    But — and this is hard to explain — I always come across that comparison between abortion terrorists and real terrorists, and I never thought to question it.

  • Dom

    How many people are victims of honor killings in England? According to the Agence France-Presse, it is one a month. Is that true? Seems very high to me.

  • Kevin B

    Natalie

    I gave a longer, more considered comment but it got smitten, so here’s the short answer.

    I didn’t know there’d be a test. The dog ate my homework. And my Granny’s sick! (Oops, tasteless.)

  • JerryM

    I am anti-abortion and pro capital punishment.

  • Midwesterner

    I have no problem with somebody dying for certain crimes. My problem is entirely with giving the ‘community’ authority to conduct executions. If you kill somebody in self defense, I have no problem with that. But form a committee, elect or have a politician appoint somebody to referee it, elect a politician to get tough on crime prosecute the criminal suspect, er, no. I don’t trust the process enough to give it the power to kill its own members.

    As for abortion, I believe that new and unprecedented DNA is a new and unprecedented human being. After that is recognized, then I will debate who has what rights and protections and on what principles. IIRC, it is Camille Paglia that also believes this and yet supports abortion. I’m not certain of that though and don’t mean to misquote her.

    As for abortion clinic bombers, it is part of the narrative. I have stopped watching or reading any national MSM unless it is linked by someone like Instapundit or Samizdata. The last evening news I watched was the second night of Gibson’s Palin interview. I no longer watch the Sunday morning shows. I am now getting all of my national news through the internet and using the local news just to generate search strings to find out the truth behind the media spin. When/if I get the bandwidth and processor power, I will hook a cable between the laptop and the TV and watch online newscasts from sources like Pajamas.

    The US is dividing. I have concerns for how this impossible to ignore phenomenon will resolve. The collectivist elements have made forcefully clear that they will stop at nothing.

  • There is a reason why those in favour of allowing abortion to exists as an option are called pro-choice.

    We make choices everyday. Every choice made has its counterpart in a choice not made. Every choice we make destroys the universe that would have been had we made a different choice.

    With every decision we destroy a universe. Compared to this an unconcious collection of cells is small potatoes.

    Yes, there are grey areas. When does an unconcious collection of cells become a concious collection of cells? (I’m sure there are quite a few people on the planet now who never made the transition). Is the unique DNA present in the very early stages of gestation a human being, or is it merely a potential human being?

    Personally, I’d rather it wasn’t necessary, but frankly its none of my business which choice another individual makes. So I don’t think about it. Better that it is legal, above board, in the open and safe, than seedy, illegal, hidden away and dangerous. Because its going to happen either way.

  • Billy Oblivion

    Question:

    How many of those abortion clinic bombers and abortion doctor murders were Christian, much less “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” (two different and not mutually exclusive strains/trends/whatever).

    I remember at least one of them was pretty much an atheist and his issue was that they were killing off future workers or some such (yeah, a bit irrational, but he BOMBED A BUILDING).

  • ResidentAlien

    I’m pro choice and anti-capital punishment.

    I guessed that abortion providers may get murdered every couple of years. I was mildly surprised that none had been killed since 1998.

    I don’t think that the comparison between Christian bombing of abortion clinics and Islamic terrorism is totally ridiculous. The logic of the terrorists is the same. Just reflect, for a moment, on how much more political murder and mayhem there would be in our society if it was in the same dire state as society in Islamic countries. Christian terrorism is much less deadly than its Islamic counterpart but the basic pathology is the same.

    Like Midwest, I have no problem with the idea of shooting somebody in the process of committing a crime of violence. I have a total aversion to the idea of giving the “state” the power to execute somebody in cold blood several years after a crime. Everything the state touches turns to shit, no way can I grant them the power of life and death over me.

    As for abortion, I think that the absence of any legal possibility for terminating a pregnancy will have far worse outcomes than allowing abortions. I appreciate that churches try to promote a culture of life. They can proselytize and use social disapproval to promote their views but they must not, ever, try to use state sanctioned violence to enforce those views.

  • Dear mandrill;

    Of all the arguments that could be marshalled for abortion (disclosure: I am of Natalie Solent’s mindset; also, abortion only when life or death), that last one’s the most stupid.

    There’s a reason we’re called human BEINGS. Simply by existing, by BEING, we are accorded the dignity of human status. I find it strange that you would call a zygote ‘potential’ when he/she is clearly actualised human life, totally separate from the mother in terms of DNA, growth and development.

    And as for our choices destroying universes? Only if you accept the multiverse theory, or speak in high-falutin’ philosophical terms. We’re talking about an actual person here, whether our laws currently recognise it or not (in certain parts of the world, abortion-on-demand is criminal).

    Better that it is legal, above board, in the open and safe, than seedy, illegal, hidden away and dangerous. Because its going to happen either way.

    Yes, I agree, we should bring back Code Duello, so that seeking private vengeance can be recognised as a proper way to handle things between two people, one of whom has been wronged…

  • Laird

    Midwesterner, I don’t follow your logic. Assuming that the victim is actually killed (and doesn’t succeed in killing his murderer in self-defense), and the “criminal” (your quotation marks, not mine) is subsequently caught and convicted of the murder, what would you do? Imprison him for life? Aside from the fact that imprisonment is no less a societally-imposed form of extreme violence against him, how would you pay for it? I recognize no obligation on my part to support him for life (even in prison) through my taxes. So if capital punishment isn’t an option, what’s your solution? Create a new Botany Bay? (Where?) Reinstate the concept of outlawry? Or the weregild?

    Capital punishment is the only viable and defensible means of removing violent sociopaths from our midst. The only problem I have with it is that it takes far too long to see justice done.

  • Gabriel

    All the arguments for abortion are hooey. The fact is that the existence of easily available, cheap abortion on demand is essential for the sustainability of the normative sexual mores of post ’60s mainstream western society. Just as in the ante-bellum south, the normal lives of millions of normal people depend on murder. If the prop of pre-natal infanticide was removed they would have to change their behaviour and that just sounds too much like hard work.

  • No Mid, you don’t misquote Ms Paglia. I read that article (was it from you?) and thought it… a bit of a curate’s egg. Frankly, like most of us, she tied herself in knots by the end.

    Mandrill, throw Q Mech into the works, step-back t3en paces, watch the fun ensue?

    I used to be vehemently “pro-choice” (BTW am I on the only one who finds that term and “pro-life” grating?) but now I’m not so sure. The whole tangled mess was hacked through to a “I’m not so sure” on this thread. I know it’s bad form to link to oneself but… There’s 13 comments there and I’m not going through that again!

    Basically, I don’t think DNA a human makes. It takes a heck of a lot more. DNA is a recipe and I have many Italian cookbooks in the house and that’s not the same as having penne arabiata and a nice chianti.

    I go on the consiousness thing (like Mandrill) except any limit there is essentially pretty arbitary and raises questions about the severely disabled or even the temporarily unconscious*. Of course as well, I was fairly consequentalist on abortion (back-street terminations, unwanted kids, generalized misery etc) but there is also a consequentalist problem here because this is potentially a slippery slope which could lead to… Well we all know where it leads don’t we?

    So I dunno. I’m still “pro-choice” but I’m more aware of the moral ambiguities and the practical concerns of “the slope”.

    *Taken to a certain reductio absurdum. Is there any moral distinction between killing (or allowing to die**) a coma patient who might recover (I don’t mean cases like Terry Schiavo) but isn’t currently conscious and killing an embryo or foetus which might become a person?

    **Killing vs allowing to die is there a difference is yet another conundrum.

  • Midwesterner

    Laird,

    I have discussed this and given my reasons with supporting evidence in other threads. I encourage you to read my last comment in this thread. In that comment of mine, note the “criminal” defense of the prosecutors and deputies, not civil. These people attempted to commit murder by judicial process. That was in the anti-Chicago Republican county of duPage and I seriously doubt it would have been noticed much less prosecuted if it had occurred in Cook.

    And in my earlier comment in this thread ‘criminal’ is in quote marks because you prosecute ‘suspects’ or ‘defendants’, not ‘criminals’. They aren’t supposed to be called criminals until after their conviction and yet how often have we heard political candidates vowing to “prosecute violent criminals”. That statement sounds superficially good, but it makes a lot of convenient presumptions in the interest of sounding good in front of a camera. In a just system, all they can pledge to do is prosecute those suspected of violent crimes. My intent was to point out the cart-before-the-horse nature of political motivated prosecutions.

    On a different note, apparently I am not the only one who has fired the MSM.

    http://newsbusters.org/node/25522/results

  • JohnnyL

    I wonder if Obama would associate with a rehabilitated abortion clinic bomber who happened to move into his neighborhood?

  • tdh

    I’d’ve guessed a few per year until the answer was adumbrated as quite different, in which case I revised the estimate radically downwards, evidently not far enough (forgetting the publicity that such murders, um, provoke relative to other murders, and the recent utter lack of such).

    I’d accept the postpartum Spartan method of birth control, or perhaps even the protracted power over life and death possessed by the Roman paterfamilias. The latter could at least help suppress vermin such as burglars.

    What I really hate is the conflation of the freedom to abort an entity that clearly is far from the definitional bounds of a being with ethical capacity, which all of our laws are or should be designed to protect, on the one hand, and economic (and worse) fascism on the other.

    I have no problem with the extermination of abortion-clinic bombers, who have proven themselves ethically malformed, essentially to a point of no return. Nevertheless, I’m glad there’ve been so vanishingly few of them. And this does corroborate that Christianity has made great progress concomitant with its return to its roots.

  • Jeffersonian

    I am anti-abortion and pro capital punishment.

  • gerard

    And remember one horrific clinic bombing happened the morning after the Monica Lewiniski story broke, while a horrible sniper shot of a doctor happened in NY just beore an election (like now) and the outraged papers assured the win of the horrible Dem. Sen.Chuck Shumer.

  • tyree

    “And how many nut-jobs that support abortion oppose capital punishment?

    If you’re offering to outlaw both abortion and capital punishment, I’ll take that deal in a heartbeat.”

    I’ll echo Servius’ remark. I understand a complete ban on abortion would never happen, but zero public money going to abortion is both desirable and workable. Similar to the “if you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one” mind set I would say “You didn’t pay for it, so you can’t have a say about it” would go a long way to satisfying both sides. Why is profit such a bad word except when the killing of the unborn is concerned?

    Johnny L asked, “I wonder if Obama would associate with a rehabilitated abortion clinic bomber who happened to move into his neighborhood?”

    which for accuracies sake should be modified like so, “I wonder if Obama would associate with a unrepentant abortion clinic bomber?”

  • Anthony

    I’d have guessed about one to two murders a year at abortion clinics or of abortion providers during the Bush presidency, though I’d have added that probably at least half were ordinary crime, not political.

  • Kurt

    Eric Rudolph was connected with the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. HE WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN!!! In interviews he made fun of Christians who tried to minister to him in jail. Do you homework before you report something like this. It is irresponsible to link him to Christians. I would call you a bozo but then again you and the rest of the mainstream media do the same sloppy work. The man disclaims all connections with being a Christian but since he bombed an abortion clinic, well then he must be Christian. Don’t be stupid!!! So then name one Christian that has bombed an abortion clinic… The sound of crickets can be heard in the background. Bigotry is bad.

  • Kurt

    Rudolph himself has written “Many good people continue to send me money and books. Most of them have, of course, an agenda; mostly born-again Christians looking to save my soul. I suppose the assumption is made that because I’m in here I must be a ‘sinner’ in need of salvation, and they would be glad to sell me a ticket to heaven, hawking this salvation like peanuts at a ballgame. I do appreciate their charity, but I could really do without the condescension. They have been so nice I would hate to break it to them that I really prefer Nietzsche to the Bible.”

    Sounds more like a wayward liberal to me than a Christian.

  • ThomasD

    I would describe myself as someone generally opposed to the killing of innocents.

    I wonder how many pro-abortionists are nut jobs who think all power should reside in the state.

  • fretless

    “I’d love to see a study into what percentage anti-abortionists are also the same nut jobs favour of capital punishment.”

    I’d love to help you to understand the difference between protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty.

  • I think the last one was the one that occurred in Birmingham Alabama; I was in that neighborhood, on that street and very near that building the day before it happened.

    Surprised? Nope; it’s big news when abortion clinics are hit with anything; much less when someone dies.

    And yes I’m PRO-LIFE (anti-abortion is weasling) and pro-capital punishment.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    With every decision we destroy a universe. Compared to this an unconcious collection of cells is small potatoes.

    Compared to that, the Holocaust is small potatoes.

    I thought of this argument for abortion when I was taking Philosophy 101. I realized that it could be used equally well to justify anything, and so abandoned it.

    you prosecute ‘suspects’ or ‘defendants’, not ‘criminals’. They aren’t supposed to be called criminals until after their conviction

    Ah. OJ is innocent, then.

    The problem here is that you are letting “guilty” or “innocent” be DEFINED by the ruling of a court.

    And thus “unjust conviction” is a contradiction in terms.

    Most people don’t confuse law with justice.

  • Lee Moore

    mandrill’s comment “Personally, I’d rather it wasn’t necessary, but frankly its none of my business which choice another individual makes” is admirably libertarian in sentiment, but I wonder whether mandrill REALLY believes it. If I choose to start executing abortion doctors, or little old ladies, or black men – is it really only my business and that of my victim ? Do other individuals, or the “community” have no responsibility, or even right, to stop me, or to have me up on criminal charges if they fail to stop me ?

    Personally, I reject the idea that human beings acquire the full panoply of moral rights from the moment of conception, and that leads me to a generally pro-choice position, at least until the potential abortee develops more substantial capacities than it starts out with. But simply to describe oneself as pro-choice, offering as a justification no more than that people should be left to pursue their own ends, without any consideration at all of whether their own ends involve trampling on the moral rights of another human, is just avoiding the question, not answering it.

    Oh and the if you’re against abortion but for capital punishment you’re a hypocrite line is a sure fire marker of someone who hasn’t thought about the moral questions involved in either subject.

  • Portia

    I would describe myself as an anti-abortionist in favour of capital punishment.

  • Trouble

    Christian terrorism is much less deadly than its Islamic counterpart but the basic pathology is the same.

    No; no, it isn’t. If Islamic terror is a cancer, then ‘Christian’ terror is an inflamed boil.

  • Steve K

    I’m surprised that no commenter so far has questioned the implicit assumption that those seven murders and seventeen attempted murders were all committed by anti-abortion activists.

    Many abortion clinics in the U.S. are located in inner-city neighborhoods where people get murdered quite frequently for non-ideologic reasons.

  • Good catch on the numbers, NS. Thought-provoking as a matter of fact. Our bias continue even as the facts change.

    Not to draw too fine a line, but on the subject of capitol punishment I would point out two things: One, I am alive today BECAUSE of the presence of capitol punishment on the books [years ago]; Two, as a former LEO I do not want today’s officers to take down “criminals” as if death rows weren’t’ there.

    If that were the case I believe a much higher number of apprehensions would end up in deadly confrontations, with the bad guys being on the losing end very much more than the cops. It’s just human nature. And that would ultimately lead to crooks arming themselves even more, in the interests of self preservation. Thus an ever-worsening spiral of violence!

    But what do I know?

  • Christopher

    The thing with the pro-abortion side is that they aren’t pro-abortion, they are “pro-choice”. It acknowledges that there is no absolute answer and that each person should have the right to answer it for themselves.

    In other words, it is a moral question to ask of oneself when this situation happens to you, and the answer very often comes from religion. Believing in a secular state, we should not be writing our laws based on religious doctrines, but by our collective intellect.

    Or, you could ban abortion and see what happens to the infanticide rates (ie: unwanted baby dropped in toilet), numbers of abandoned children (that end up in orphanages), and the number of street doctors performing dirty abortions.

    I’d rather make it legal, controlled and regulated in a clean and safe environment. Let people decide for themselves, and if they are christians they will make what they believe to be the right choice.

    Same as say the prohibition on alcohol.

  • Alena

    I am Pro-Life and Pro-Capital Punishment.

    Abortion kills innocents while capital punishment kills killers that kill innocents.

    Some may argue that there are innocents on death row, and I do understand and empathize with that argument, but we must have faith in our justice system.

    I know for a fact that not a single child killed by abortion is guilty of anything. Which is the greater evil?

    Great point that you have made Natalie! I was surprised at the facts too, and wish that our MSM could look at all of the facts objectively and report as such.
    Thank you for posting this!

    Oh, and one more thing, how many pro-abortion supporters for Obama know that he also supports infanticide?

    It is one thing to kill a child in the womb, but after delivering it alive leave it to die?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypDwNpgIUQc

    from NakedEmporerNews on YouTube.Com

  • wpb

    Good discussion. I am trying to be consistent in how I approach this, trying to follow the guidance of Cardinal Joseph Bernandin who called many of his flock in Chicago to have a “consistent ethic of life”. In other words, if you are pro-life, you need to be pro-life in all it’s forms, (prebirth, life, and end of life).

    In that sense, he convicted me, and many others, who thought we could be pro-life, anti euthanasia, anti-assisted suicide, and still be pro-death penalty, pro nuclear war, and pro war in general. I struggle with it – but his basic premise is correct in my mind: if life is present and of value in the womb, and when we are sick or dying – then it’s just as present in form of criminal, or the innocent victims of war (even if they are the families of our enemies).

    I am not suggesting adopting consistent ethic of life is easy, but it’s worth trying.

  • Anonymous

    > There is a reason why those in favour of allowing abortion
    > to exists as an option are called pro-choice.

    > And yes I’m PRO-LIFE (anti-abortion is weasling)
    > and pro-capital punishment.

    Cut the crap. The two of you are “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion,” respectively — although the self-anointed choicers annoy me more, even though I’m pro-abortion.

    The self-proclaimed “pro-choicers” are often anti-choice on just about every other issue (ie: guns, schools, money, etc.). Compare the ACLU’s position on taxpayer funding for abortion (‘tough if you’re opposed to abortion’) to school-vouchers (‘we can’t force people to fund viewpoints they disagree with, unless it’s abortion’).

    When was the last time you heard a politician say something like “While I am personally opposed to private gun ownership, I would never interfere with the right of a woman to choose whether or not to own a gun for self-protection.

    As somebody once said, “Everybody is pro-life. And everybody is pro-choice. What we’re talking about is abortion. Either you’re for it or you’re against it.”

  • tm

    How about instead of calling it pro-choice we call it pro killing unborn babies? Pro-choice sounds noble when clearly it is not. Just for the record I don’t think abortion should be outlawed but calling it pro-choice is kinda disgusting IMO.

  • inmypajamas

    I would also have guessed “zero” because of the lack of any coverage by the left-leaning press, but I’m sure most people guessed “a few” because of the constant MSM narrative that fundamentalist Christians are barely suppressed rage-cases ready to explode at any moment. Abortion supporters have to keep the “Christianist” bogeyman alive to give themselves victim status (instead of the unfortunate unborn) and help with fund-raising.

    The main difference I see in “Christian” terrorism and Islamic terrorism is that abortion bombers are acting outside their faith and its teachings whereas suicide bombers are acting on behalf of their faith and quote amply from their holy books to justify it. No Christian denomination promotes or condones clinic bombings but the number of mosques and imams who support terror in the name of Islam is depressingly large.

  • RtWingNtCase

    wpb,

    No one I know is “pro-war.” However, too many folks assume that the opposite of war is peace. It isn’t, especially when dealing with tyrannies who see peace as lack of opposition rather than lack of conflict. The alternative to war is often oppression, not “peace.”

    True peace is not merely the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice.

  • Youngblood

    With every decision we destroy a universe. Compared to this an unconcious collection of cells is small potatoes.

    Wow. I’ll have to make a hall of fame for silly blog comments or something, and have this one bronzed. I don’t know what to say except that some people should simply be kept away from pop-philosophy.

  • RB

    I’ve always been more amazed at the comparison. I listen to the BBC’s World Service regularly and am often quite amazed at the London-based commentators’ views of religious zealotry here in the U.S. I’ve always likened it to all-blonds-are-dumb or the-french-are-wimps sort of stereotypes. Listening to some of them one would think that Sunday School was compulsory in 47 states (CA, MA, and NY, of course, being the other three).

  • hitnrun

    The entire argument for equating “religious nuts” of Islam and Christianity is ridiculous on its face and endemic of a fundamental desire to avoid anything that smacks of “colonialism” in the Anglosphere.

    First of all, the last of these killings was, as the post mentions, ten years ago. Secondly, we’re talking about people being attacked for carving up babies. You may say that doesn’t make it right and it’s a woman’s right to choose, and I would agree with you on both counts to a point, but it’s a far cry away from cutting off a girl’s clitoris to stop her from feeling pleasure, stoning rape victims, hanging homosexuals, and blowing up nightclubs.

    Of course, acknowledging that would undermine the observer’s relativist bona-fides and put his command of chic nuance into question.

  • JCG

    I agree with RAB that the decision on abortion is a “personal” one between the individual and her doctor. Similarly, I believe the decision on whether or not to buy a slave is a “personal” one between and man or woman and his or her accountant. I’m planning on purchasing several.

    Some may consider me a “nut job”, but the fact is that it is certainly a lot safer to murder over a million defenseless babies every year than to apprehend and execute a dozen or so murderers.

    And, if anyone gives me any crap about being a slave owner, my cousin Vinnie from Philly says he’ll be happy to whack them as a “personal and private” matter just between him and me.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Don’t like slavery? Don’t own a slave.

    Don’t like raping your wife? Don’t rape her then.

    Don’t like killing your disabled relatives who can’t take care of themselves? Don’t kill them then.

    But don’t presume to impose your morals on others.

    Right?

    What these things have in common with abortion, and each other, is that each says that in some circumstances one human being can have absolute disposal of the life or person of another.

    Besides slavery, Roman culture, in theory, said that the father of a family had absolute power over the members of his household-slaves, wife, children. You were not a legal adult with civil rights until your father died, and if you were female or a slave, not even then. In theory your father could kill you–there was a case, under Hadrian I think, where the law had to intervene to protect a son-killing father from the mob–and Hadrian was shocked to find he had no legal way to prosecute the father.

    The difference between abortion and killing in war, killing in self-defence, or capital punishment seems obvious, but I can spell it out for the cognitively challenged:

    War, self-defense, and capital punishment are not killings meeted out by the mere whim of the person comitting them, as a matter of right.

    Wars and capital punishment require the sanction of a government. In a democracy these usually involve lengthy and public processes. Self-defence requires a particular circumstance which is rare by its nature–you cannot break into someone’s house, kill him, and claim it was self defense because he threatened you the day before.

    A woman can abort for any reason or none, just as one could beat or sell a slave for any reason or none, just as a Roman paterfamilias could leave an unwanted infant on his doorstep for anyone to take if they wanted, or leave to die if not.

    It is one thing to say killing a person is sanctioned under certain circumstances. It is another to say that one person has this power over another as a matter of right. These are not morally equivalent positions.

    Your only way out is to deny the personhood of a fetus. I can see that, in the first few weeks, I think that’s a defensible position.

    But the law as it stands now, a woman can abort well beyond the point at which a fetus is viable as a matter of right.

    Almost nobody thinks abortion should be absolutley illegal. But most of us think it should be a goddamn right.

    In California a minor cannot use a tanning bed without parental consent, but she can have a tax-payer funded abortion without her parents even being informed.

    There is a serious problem with the law as it exists.

  • Christopher

    Just for the record–

    I’m pro-choice on abortion but guess what… I’m also pro-war, pro-gun, pro-free speech, etc.

    I’m a moderate from Canada so that makes me kind of a whacko anyway.

    However I do concede that a lot of the same people who are pro choice for abortion are very anti choice when it comes to a lot of other things. Everyone is entitled to being a hypocrite.

  • JCG

    But…but…Gabriel Hanna, you’re using Reason on me when all I want is to be able to do what I want and not have anybody give me any crap about it. I just want to opt out of the whole “moral” thing. Actually, a little different than that. I’m asserting an absolute “privacy” right so my stand is one of principle and thus more than merely pleasing myself. I’m not setting my slaves free, and as a man of principle I don’t have to think about it anymore (even when they cry).

  • Jond

    Christian terrorism is much less deadly than its Islamic counterpart but the basic pathology is the same.

    The basic pathology is not the same, because one is murder and the other is terrorism.

    The abortion clinic bombers were vigilantes and murderers, not terrorists, and they deserve the death penalty for their actions.

    The bombers would be terrorists if, in their quest to save the world from abortion doctors, they bombed emergency rooms and day care centers.

  • Tim in TX

    I have a hard time figuring out how anyone could think murders/bombings committed against abortion clinics – or against anyone else in the name of anything resembling Christianity. It’s one of the rarest forms of crime/violence you’ll find.

    But then, there are a surprising amount of people who live here who simply have no experience either with anyone “religious” or with areas outside the urban centers; they’ll believe just about anything, and what they do believe is often based around bizarre assumptions and stereotypes. Most of it stems from a desire not to be judged and a fear that other people will try to pass legislation contrary to their chosen lifestyle. Perhaps they’ve simply watched “Jesus Camp” one to many times.

  • With every decision we destroy a universe. Compared to this an unconcious collection of cells is small potatoes.

    Actually we create one with every decision… and in any case, so what? What has that got to do with anything? My yes/no decision to scratch my arse has no universe shaking moral import whatsoever.

  • ResidentAlien

    If somebody murders an abortion doctor only because she is an abortion provider, that is a terrorist act because the intention is to terrorize other people into not providing abortions.

    In the same way, those in the UK who have carried out assorted criminal acts against people doing research on animals (or even just doing business with the research lab) are terrorists because of their intention to provoke a change in actions through scaring people.

    The jihadists who attacked the world trade center are terrorists who murdered on a massive scale with the hope of scaring us into very big changes.

    Whether or not an act is terrorist is nothing to do with the body count.

  • Person of Choler

    I, for one, am not at all surprised to learn that there have been no recent murders of abortion providers. Such murders always cause a great commotion in the media, and there has not been such a commotion for a very long time.

    To be well informed it is almost important to note what is NOT in the news as to be aware of what is.

    And to pose a question to a questioner above: why would you support killing an unborn baby but balk at executing John Wayne Gacy?

  • “Capital punishment is the only viable and defensible means of removing violent sociopaths from our midst. The only problem I have with it is that it takes far too long to see justice done.”

    Hear, hear!

  • High School Philosophy

    > The abortion clinic bombers were vigilantes and murderers, not terrorists

    > The bombers would be terrorists if, in their quest
    > to save the world from abortion doctors,
    > they bombed emergency rooms and day care centers.

    Were the following acts of terrorism, or legitimate acts of war?

    * Al Qaida attack on the U.S.S. Cole (Oct. 12, 2000)

    * Al Qaida attack on the Pentagon (Sept. 11, 2001)

    * Bill Ayers bombing the Capitol and the Pentagon (1971 and 1972)

    * Tim McVeigh bombing the Murrah building in Oklahoma City (April 19, 1995)

  • RAB

    I can only assume that your remarks on slavery were a feeble attempt at humour JCG,

    otherwise bugger off and agree with someone else.I can do without your endorsement thank you so much!

  • JCG

    RAB: Oh my gosh, you GOT it! Congratulations! I didn’t think you were intellectually capable of it. Keep up the good work, pal! You’re making progress!

  • first i am anti abortion and pro captial punishment.
    second, the premise the 2are equivalent is wrong. one innocent baby life terminated for whatever reason is not the same as the termination of a life by a person deemed unforgivable by a society of law abiding citizens for violating those laws.
    third, the moral equivalence of those violently opposed to abortion to the nutwing islamic fascists is another means to disarm America from its own defense

  • Part of the reason for the decline in attacks on abortion clinics might be that the opponents are winning.

    The excesses of “part-birth terminations” (aka, pull the baby out and kill it or let it starve to death) have not helped the image of the abortion fan club. The direction of the Supreme Court is also away from federal legalization. And for those wondering about Barack Obama, the most likely SC Justice (who is 88, with another pro-abortion Justice next oldest at 75) to need replacing in the next few years on age grounds is pro-abortion, so an abortion fanatic probably needs two terms to have a chance of reversing the trend.

    Outside the political sphere, in plain business terms, I don’t believe it is easy to get a commercial loan to open an abortion clinic in the USA. I’m told this even affects stem cell research funding. This is why so much stem cell research money comes from the states, like California.

    Looking ahead, all the demographic groups that actually reproduce and expand as a proportion of the population (including Moslems) have belief systems that oppose abortion (and likely support the death penalty for murder).

    The people who support abortion, by and large, do not reproduce at a replacement rate (about 2.2 children per woman), so like the Shakers, they rely on persuading (or coercing) others to their views. How many readers of this comment a) support abortion and b) have three children or more that they are bringing up in a family context where abortion is considered ok? A minority I’m sure.

    In the long run, the bet would be that abortions will be prohibited by Islamists in most of the world. So why would radical Christians be violent?

  • Michael D. Giles

    I am anti abortion, but also anti capital punishment. It’s not that I don’t think some people deserve the ultimate penalty, there are more then a few of those out there. However, it’s not those that I worry about. It’s the poor schlub who happens to just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or happens to be tried in an election year, or who is represented by a legal aid lawyer six months out of law school, or who has a Nifong type DA. Until we can bring people back to life, the results of making an error is simply too costly.

  • Pa Annoyed

    The attempt at moral equivalence between abortion and capital punishment is old and boring.

    Anyone care to debate the proposal, Henrietta Lacks should be allowed to die with dignity?

    For those who don’t know, Henrietta was the origin of the HeLa cell line used in biomedical research. Her cells, taken from a biopsy of the cancer that killed her, are effectively immortal, and are cultured in laboratories around the world. (Without permission from her or her family, by the way.) The worldwide production of Henrietta is estimated to be more than tons a year. (A single lab can routinely produce 48 litres a day.)

    If a single-cell zygote can be an individual person, then so still is Henrietta Lacks. One for what they may become, the other for what they have been.

    Life certainly doesn’t begin with conception – both egg and sperm are alive – and neither in every case does individuality – identical twins are clones of each other, produced when the ball of cells splits in two before implantation, two souls from one conception, while tetragametic chimeras occur when balls of cells for non-identical twins merge, one soul from two conceptions. Biology blurs the borders, erasing our familiar certainties, asking inconvenient questions.

    If our moral theories are based on untruths, how moral can they be?

  • ResidentAlien:

    “As for abortion, I think that the absence of any legal possibility for terminating a pregnancy will have far worse outcomes than allowing abortions. I appreciate that churches try to promote a culture of life. They can proselytize and use social disapproval to promote their views but they must not, ever, try to use state sanctioned violence to enforce those views.”

    As for rape, I think that the absence of any legal possibility for such sexual pleasures will have far worse outcomes than allowing abortions. I appreciate that churches try to promote a culture of modesty. They can proselytize and use social disapproval to promote their views but they must not, ever, try to use state sanctioned violence to enforce those views.

    (i.e. The church, and just about everyone that claims to be pro-life, aren’t doing so simply because they want to fuck around with women. They’re doing so simply because they truly believe abortion is equivalent to murder. To philosophically believe that, and hold on to libertarian no-harm principles, and then support “choice” is inconsistent and stupid).

  • ResidentAlien

    Rajan R:

    I don’t quite follow your point about abortion and rape.

    I do understand what you are saying about abortion opponents truly believing that abortion is murder and therefore being unable to leave it as a matter of personal choice.

    For me, the argument just keeps coming back to a comparison of outcomes between legalization and prohibition. Perhaps because I am conceptually unable to take the viewpoint of an aborted fetus, I judge that a society with legalized abortion has better outcomes.

    I do appreciate that I am not being systematically consistent in my reasoning, I don’t care, I can only judge things according to my perceptions. Also, if we are regarding “life” as sacrosanct, what about animal or even plant life?

  • b

    Must… bite… troll bait.

    ‘Criminal’ apparently thinks he is being clever with “I’d love to see a study into what percentage anti-abortionists are also the same nut jobs [in] favour of capital punishment.” But the rest of us realize that there is no logical contradiction and the real cognitive dissonance is owned by the people with the anti-captial punishment/pro-abortion stances.

    Crimmy, buddy, let me break it down for you. The unborn has committed no crime and doesn’t deserve a death sentence. The heinous mass-murdering terrorist does. Logically consistent.

    Now with your implied position, you are against punishing a murderer but have no problem murdering an innocent. Logically inconsistent.

  • John McVey

    Pro abortion (without question until week 25, and currently pro from there all the way to birth but further thought required) and pro capital punishment.

    A fetus is human, and alive. Nobody worth taking seriously denies this. The issue is whether a fetus has rights. My current stand is no, certainly not before quickening and viablity, and most likely no between then and birth.

    As to capital punishment, if the incontrovertible proof is there of a heinous crime (murder, violent rape, that sort of thing), I see no reason why the criminal should not be treated as beyond redemption and executed.

    In both cases one could argue about technicalities until the cows come home, but the issue is principles. There is nothing that objectively rules out either abortion or capital punishment as a matter of principle. Rights begin at birth, and are forfeited to the extent of the violation of those of another.

    JJM

  • Midwesterner

    JJM,

    I think we share the general meta-context re abortion and have reached differing conclusions. It would be interesting some slow day to discuss it within that perspective as we have reached different conclusions working from the same or very similar understandings and principles.

    ResA,

    Usually we agree (I think). But in this case, it sounds to me like you are using outcome based reasons. While I often use outcome based arguments to defend my principles against pragmatic sorts that want to do things for the good of society, I don’t use outcome based arguments to establish principles. Here be dragons. It is precisely the outcome motivated societal policy activists that . . . well . . . gave us what we got now.

    P.A.,

    Fascinating as always. Yes, I do believe Henrietta Lacks owns her ‘code’. It is obviously valuable and her or her designated heir’s instructions should be respected. Identical twins are an interesting case. Obviously, they each own their own bodies (assuming complete separation). But their DNA code, were one to try to transfer rights to it, would be co-owned. A matter similar to resolving a legal dispute over the ownership of anything else that is indivisible.

    I have to confess to being unaware of tetragametic chimeras. It would seem reasonable that whatever consciousness controls the body has ownership of any and all unique DNA it contains.

    I don’t find those questions inconvenient at all. Rather they intrigue and they clarify muddled contradictions in some less reasoned arguments. I’ll be out most of the day starting in a little while but I’ll check back in when I get home.

  • Sunfish

    In my heart, anti-abortion. I don’t vote based upon abortion, though, but I’d be reluctantly pro-choice if I did. What I know, I don’t know with enough certainty to impose on others with the force of law.

    In theory I’m pro-capital punishment. I don’t have a problem with the notion of executing a murderer. But I think the possibility of killing someone who’s actually innocent is unacceptable. Mid’s account of a corrupt prosecutor in Illinois, well, I found very persuasive.

    As for Natalie’s question: I wrote down “11.” That there hadn’t been such a killing since 1998 surprised me, but only little. Abortion clinic killings are such a political big deal that I’m sure they’d have gotten plenty of coverage.

    As for the notion that killing abortion doctors b/c they’re abortion doctors isn’t terrorism: whoever said that needs to lay off of the cough syrup.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Part of the problem is the discontinuous mind, that tries to categorise everything behind sharply defined boundaries.

    There is no sharp threshold. From unfertilised egg and sperm through to achieving your full adult rights at 18 or 21 or whatever it might be where you live, there is a gradual increase in complexity and maturity and independence.

    People set boundaries because of the practicalities of our legal system. (Or the religious legal system.) You can’t ‘partly allow’ some all-or-nothing procedure. One day before the limit, go to jail as the worst sort of criminal scum, one day after, and there’s no problem at all.

    Biology is a fuzzy business. There’s a definite answer at one end, and a completely different definite answer at the other, but the discontinuous mind cannot figure out what to do with the slide from one to the other. One approach is to push it as far as it will go in one direction or the other. Another is to try to come up with complicated rules and criteria to identify what it is you’re protecting and then detect the crossing of this sharper boundary. The first results in what look like crazy classifications to many people, the second gets mired in technicalities when we find that our intuitive assumptions about the biology are wrong.

    To see where this kind of thinking goes, take another continuum between a multi-cellular organism and its components. A blood sample taken from a mass murderer is unquestionably alive, unquestionably human, and yet it would be hard to ascribe any guilt to it. Liver and kidneys likewise – they were just along for the ride, kept in the dark, with no choice in the matter. The cells of the muscles might have a harder time arguing innocence, having actually committed the deed, but could use the Nuremberg defence of only obeying orders. So you can argue that capital punishment is unjust, because you end up killing billions of innocent cells when only those in the brain are actually guilty. And even large parts of the brain can probably claim innocence. Where do you stop? If you’re going to ascribe rights and humanity to insensate cells, then why not ascribe them to all of them, individually?

    The problem with the capital punishment argument is not as others have described it. For the wrongness of killing, it takes as its criterion human-level complexity and self-awareness, and nothing else. On the basis of this criterion, the position is self-consistent. The problem with it is that the criterion is not self-evident, and not everybody subscribes to it. It is the age-old problem of people with different moral systems talking past each other, entirely unable to comprehend that their own morals are not universal and obvious. It’s like the stereotypical English tourist who believes that all foreigners can understand English if you speak it slowly and loudly enough.

    People could have an intelligent discussion about some interesting biology and ethics and the implications of the different criteria people use for the more fascinating advances in biotechnology. But instead, every time we get people saying the same things over and over again, slowly and loudly.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mid,

    Your comments are appreciated as always.

    In this case I was questioning the idea that individuality starts at conception, but ownership of DNA is another interesting issue. Since virtually all of it is actually shared with other people (and indeed a large percentage of it with other types of organism), this is another area where biology’s fuzziness gets in the way of the human legal need for black-and-white divisions. Genes invented people, not the other way round.

  • ResidentAlien: The point I was making with rape (or you could insert it with just about any other crime) is that when the argument against something (in this case, abortion) is about preventing the violation of rights (the unborn’s right to life), bringing up the harms of prohibitions is not sufficient at all.

    Bringing up the harms of prohibition only works when it is a victimless crime – something no one anti-abortion subscribes to. So yes, abortion would be pushed undergone, daily women would risk death by getting an illicit abortion, and the like – it all doesn’t matter if it means that less foetuses gets killed, and society doesn’t condone such actions.

    So for someone to believe abortion is intrinsically wrong for such reasons and yet opposes prohibiting it, the logical extension of that is legalizing other crimes, like theft, murder, rape and assault.

    As for whether life is sacrosanct: yes, no right is an absolute, but personally, I would prioritize the right to life above the right to choice and the right to privacy.

    John McVey: There is no physiological differences between a neonatal baby and a foetus just prior to birth. Why is it that the act of leaving the womb ought to determine the right of life in this case? After all, after viability, foetuses can be removed from the womb and still stay alive, if not thrive.

    Since you already conceded that foetuses are human and alive, what exact characteristic that allows their right to life to be violated just prior to birth and not immediately after? (Incidentally, with partial birth abortion, the foetus is, well, partially birthed and killed in the birth canal, even though the foetus can survive well if birthed completely – I don’t see how that’s defensible).

  • Pa Annoyed

    RajanR,

    I am told that “meat is murder”. For someone who believes that this is so, would you agree that allowing butchers to sell meat is equivalent to legalising cannibalism?

    And if you’re Swiss and believe in the dignity of plants, does not the “right to life” by definition apply to everything that lives? (We don’t speak of a “right to intelligent self-awareness” after all.) Bringing up the fact that everybody would starve surely only works without the billions of innocent vegetable victims? There are people who believe this too.

    I agree that the cases are different. But can you analyse exactly where the difference lies?

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Pa Annoyed, does the word “bald” mean anything?

    I mean, what exact percentage of hairs need to be missing from your head before you can say you are “bald”?

    But people have no problem using the word unambiguously. For the ambiguous cases we have words like “balding” or phrases like “thin on top”.

    You’re deliberately muddying the waters here, thinking you are proving a point by doing so.

    A “person” is not a collection of genes, or a sum of cells of a particular organism. The concept of “personhood” has never been strictly biologically based, or there would be no such word as “soul” and “life after death” would be a contradiction in terms.

    Some people believe in souls. And they think that fertilized egg somehow got one, even if it’s a person yet. Different faiths have different views of WHEN it gets one. I don’t believe in souls, but at some point a fetus becomes a person, even if I don’t know exactly when that is; just as I know that if my grandfather is now bald, he must at some time have been balding.

    We have to work in the law. You seem fairly comfortable with a voting age set at the arbitrary age of 18. People may argue if 18 is too old or not old enough, but in the minute before legal majority you are no more mature than the minute after. The age is a proxy for adult maturity. For a Roman it was when your father died, no matter how old you were. But the law cannot measure maturity, nor can it measure personhood.

    Killing infants, in our culture, is right out. But in others it is not. Arguing the way you do, you question not only abortion but also the legality of laws against murder. If Henrietta Lacks’ cells were known to me, back in the 40′s to be cultured in laboratories, would it have been murder to kill her? This discussion questions almost all of civilized morality and does not restrict us to abortion.

    Murder is bad. Duh.

    A right to abortion, to me, smacks of defining the personhood of a human organism in terms of its convenience to another, and I do not like where this leads.

  • Resident Alien

    Midwesterner,

    We do usually agree. I am making use of outcome based arguments through lack of anything better. I haven’t got anything better. I did read once that the the best way to get to common principles was to look at whether or not one felt “disgust.” I don’t feel disgust at the idea of a rape victim aborting the product of the rape as soon as it becomes apparent that she is pregnant. I do feel disgust at the idea of a e.g. a happily married young woman in her 20s deciding to abort in the sixth month because having a baby would disrupt her finances and stop her buying a new car.

    Of course, there are many gradations between those two extremes and trying to legislate to match where I feel disgust would be impossible and arbitrary. The outcome based reasoning kicks in because I see a binary choice between allowing and disallowing abortion and neither is an option that entirely matches my views.

    On capital punishment:

    You will not find me standing up for the right to life of Saddam Hussein, John Wayne Gacy etc.. I can philosophically accept that some people forfeit their right to life. I cannot accept that any human institution is capable of getting the decision right every time.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Resident Alien: your argument against capital punishment is an argument against prison.

    No human institution is capable of getting the decision right every time (a standard I doubt you apply to anything else human institutions are in charge of); and years wrongfully spent in prison cannot be refunded, any more than a wrongfully-executed criminal can be brought back to life.

    Furthermore, you are counting costs on only one side. What about the lives lost when the state wrongfully does not execute a criminal? They can kill guards or other prisoners, or escape. After all, no human institution, such as prison, can get the decisions right every time that would protect innocent lives from convicted murderers.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Pa Annoyed:

    You are hair-splitting. The “pro-life” movement is not about protecting meat or Henrietta Lacks’ tumors, but about persons–or “souls” as some have it.

    I am a person. I was once a fertilized egg, not a person. At some point I became a person, even if no one knows, or can agree, when that point is.

    My grandfather is bald. Once, he had hair. At some point, he became “bald” even if I do not know or cannot say when exactly he lost the one hair he needed to lose to swtich from “bald” to not “bald”.

    If personhood were based solely on biology, the word “soul” would not exist and “life after death” would be a meaningless contradiction.

    You’re just playing word games.

    It would be murder, in the 40s, to kill Henrietta Lacks’ despite the fact that her cells live on laboratories. Question this questions the basis of civilized morality–so using this tactic to discuss abortion is like spanking a baby with an ax.

  • Resident Alien

    Gabriel,

    The inefficiency, fallability and corruptibility of the state could be used as an argument against letting the state do anything. I want the state kept to an absolute minimum, I don’t even want them issuing driver’s licenses. I can’t possibly countenance their executing people.

    You are right that the years spent in prison by a wrongfully convicted innocent man cannot be returned, but he can be given some form of compensation.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Resident Alien, you didn’t say “the state”, you said “any human institution”.

    That’s a pretty strong statement. Markets are also human institutions. So are churches. We have to live in the real world with real humans and real institutions.

    You fail to address my other point. If you are murdered by somone who ought to have been executed, who can compensate you?

    Wrongful exonerations, or wrongful failure to apply the law, has a cost for future victims of crimes, not merely defendants.

    You give no reason for failing to make any account for that. But I know the reason–you’ve decided in advance that capital punishment is wrong and you seek rationalizations as opposed to reasons.

  • Laird

    None of you anti-capital punisment apologists has addressed the question I raised early in this thread: what is your alternative?

    I am willing to stipulate that on rare occasions errors will be made; no human insitution is infallible. But in the US (at least) we have layer upon layer (too many, in my opinion) of protections and proceedural safeguards to guard against error. So, if someone has been properly convicted of, say, aggravated murder, and exhausted all appeals, what are we to do with him? Are you presuming to claim some sort of right to confiscate my money to support him in an expensive prison for the rest of his life, merely to assuage your fear that somewhere, someday, somehow someone might be wrongfully convicted? Sorry, but I do not accept any such obligation. Are you proposing a restoration of the ancient concept of outlawry (where someone who has functionally rejected society is denied any of its protections)? Such persons could lawfully be killed by anyone so inclined, which I suggest is not fundamentally different (and is probably far less humane) than a state-run execution. Have you found a jurisdiction willing to play host to a new Botany Bay where we can dump these violent criminals?

    How would you deal with a violent psychopath in a manner which both (a) provides a reasonable guaranty that he will commit no further depredations against society, and (b) does not impose an unreasonable burden on the taxpayers? I look forward to your answer.

  • VLHA

    Laird-

    I do tend to believe that capital punishment is justifiable (albeit imperfect) for the reasons you have stated in (a), but it may be worth noting that capital punishment actually costs taxpayers more on an inmate-by-inmate basis than life imprisonment.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Gabriel Hanna,

    How do you know that animals, or even what remains of Henrietta Lacks, don’t have souls? Maybe they do?

    “If personhood were based solely on biology, the word “soul” would not exist and “life after death” would be a meaningless contradiction.”

    So what is it based on? And what makes you think it isn’t a meaningless contradiction?

    “You’re just playing word games.”

    I’m pointing out that there are people with moral systems in which the killing of animals or plants is as wrong as killing people.
    (And which posit souls for animals, who believe that you can be reincarnated as an animal, and there are of course many traditional stories of restless ghosts unable to move on until they have been properly buried. It is not incredible that people could believe such things. Religious people routinely believe much weirder.)

    The argument I was responding to used the facts of what anti-abortionists believe to support their case that a human zygote counts as a person. The same logic can be used to support the vegan’s contention that their belief that animals are ‘non-human people’ makes killing an animal murder.

    I don’t argue with anti-abortionists saying that they believe abortion to be murder – from the perspective of their own moral belief system, they’re correct. But I also consider the vegan argument concerning the killing of animals to be essentially the same argument.

    What I’m saying is that there’s no point going over the same ground, telling us that you consider this blob of cells to be a person with rights. We know that. What you need to tell us is why all the people who don’t think the same should pay any attention. Indeed, why you think we should be legally forced to pay attention.

    Arguments founded on the innocence of the victim or the system of justice are unpersuasive. The argument is not over whether killing is ever justified, but over the definition and boundary of personhood, so the capital punishment counterexample is pretty rubbish. It misses the point entirely.

    I’m not necessarily advocating for any particular answer, either. While I am still happy to eat meat, I do think the Vegans have a point when they point out that on any objective standard, an adult pig appears far more person-like (in the sense of having a soul) than a human infant. And while not being bothered one way or the other about abortion, I do think anti-abortionists have a point. Especially with regard to the (relatively rare) late-term abortions. But in both cases it is their own viewpoint, which is not universally shared, and which society has decided (by the mechanisms put in place to decide such questions) to ignore. The question that interests me is, other than the Parliamentary process, how do they propose we deal with these questions? When somebody holds such a deep belief that the majority decision is morally wrong?

    The terrorists have put forward one answer. What is ours?

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Pa Annoyed, you atribute to me beliefs that I don’t have.

    I don’t believe in souls, etc. And I explicitly denied the personhood of a fertilized egg. So argue with me, and not a straw man.

    Am I a person now? Then at some point I became a person, if I was not one to begin with. You can’t argue with that without denying my personhood NOW.

    The thing is, you think you are arguing against restrictions of abortion rights. My point is that your argument cannot be restricted to that.

    You are questioning personhood in a way that forces us to legalize murder of persons who are unambiguously judged to be persons, if we want to be consistent. That is my point.

    There has to be a standard which everyone must follow, whether or not they believe in it, or civilized life is impossible.

    Your argument says, well, what about vegans? Well, what about people who would restrict the definition rather than expand it, for example, people who think other races are not people? Do they get to kill them?

    Since this line of argument rapidly becomes pointless and silly, then why pursue it? There is no point in saying “what if we count a tumor as person”.

    I’ll try to say more but the spambot keeps squashing me.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Pa Annoyed, cont.

    Your argument seems purposely designed to obscure from the real moral issue, and distract everyone with hair-splitting and demanding “exact definitions”. Which is dumb. Nobody can “exactly define” anything. You don’t “define” personhood from the bottom up, or “love”, or anything else. You say, “here is the way people use the word when they intend to be taken seriously”. If “bald” is a word with a real meaning, than so is “personhood”.

    We all agree that people are not to be murdered. We all believe that the state has the primary role in preventing people from being murdered–though not everyone thinks that the state SHOULD have that role.

    No one gives out licenses to priests of Baal to carry out human sacrifices no matter how much they believe they need to, so what was the point of your pursuing this line? People do not get to just do whatever they want because they believe it. Let’s confine ourselves to society as it exists.

  • RAB

    We all believe that the state has the primary role in preventing people from being murdered–

    Nope the State doesn’t.

    What it does is prosecute and deal with those who have committed murder in various ways.
    The State prevents nothing. All it does is write laws.
    If that prevented the proscribed acts then we would all be safe until they ran out of ink, now wouldn’t we?
    If you folks want to split hairs that is.

    Me, well I’m a pragmatist. I am happy to see persons die for vile and evil crimes as long as I am absolutely certain that they did them.

    I have, in the past steamed into violent situations to prevent harm happening to an innocent party. On the last occasion I got my arm broken.
    But it could have been the other way round. That’s just the way I am.You know human being and citizen.

    I have also been the Clerk of Court for about 11 years in the past, and been eyeball to eyeball with more murderers that the whole of the commentators on this thread put together.

    A pathetic bunch in the main,(the murderers that is) who you know have passed all the legal tests for what qualifies for Murder rather than Manslaughter, but you also know that it was a one off, and they would never ever repeat their crime.Why kill them just because someone wrote a Law saying you should? Why not put them to work for their rehabilitaion and for the good of the rest of society( I’m not talking mail bags and breaking rocks here. It could be something more substantive than that).
    Well when Capital Punishment was abolished in Britain, the trade off was that the killer got imprisonment for life.
    Now, as everyone knows, that Covenant has been broken. Life does not mean life.
    In fact if politics is the uppermost in our Masters minds, some do not even get prosecuted, even though those who are guilty are well known to the authorities. AKA the Omah bombers.
    Others, back in the seventies and eighties, were banged up on the flimsiest of evidence, because of the something must be done mantra! We must have a result irrespective of whether they got the right people or not.
    If Murder was a Capital Offence still, those guys (the Birmingham 6 etc) would be dead. No appeals and reparations for them.
    I guess what I’m saying is that I do not trust my Government (even when I was a small cog in it) to get it right.
    So Life Imprisonment for murder is the best/least worse way to go.
    Like they say about Democracy.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    We all believe that the state has the primary role in preventing people from being murdered–

    Nope the State doesn’t.

    What it does is prosecute and deal with those who have committed murder in various ways.

    Cops and courts have no influence on whether or not people commit crimes? What an odd notion.

    You must be one of those guys who blows by state patrolmen at 90, then.

    So why did NYC’s crime rates go way down, then? It’s a mystery.

    If Murder was a Capital Offence still, those guys (the Birmingham 6 etc) would be dead. No appeals and reparations for them.

    No appeals or reparations for the victims of Edward Kemper either. Or those guys who hold up a convenience store, kill a clerk, do their time, and do it again when they get out.

    Most violent crimes are committed by recidivists. Dead men commit very few crimes.

    How many people have been executed in this country since 1978 or whenever? It’s less than a few hundred. The number wrongfully executed is much less than that, you can argue about how much.

    But how many thousands have been murdered by recidivists?

    You’re straining at gnats and swallowing camels, because you’ve decided your position in advance.

  • Midwesterner

    P.A.,

    Knowing your meta-context as I do, I would have been more than a little surprised by any position other than the one you take. I could probably have done a fair pass at writing your comment for you. :-)

    That said, of course I disagree. You said:

    There is no sharp threshold. From unfertilised egg and sperm through to achieving your full adult rights at 18 or 21 or whatever it might be where you live, there is a gradual increase in complexity and maturity and independence.

    There is one, and only one, sharp threshold that I have found. The unfertilized egg and sperm are functionally indistinguishable from all of the other living tissue the body sheds on a continuous basis. And from fertilitilzed egg through whatever criterion of humanness one choses to use is, as you say “a gradual increase in complexity and maturity and independence”.

    However, the formation of the new DNA, a new and unprecedented self configuring process for the construction of a human, is a bright line.

    You say “You can’t ‘partly allow’ some all-or-nothing procedure.” Well, the joke ‘a little bit pregnant’ is an old one. But the time is within sight when it may no longer be a joke, when a pregnancy may be temporarily suspended or transferred to another person at will. But no matter what technological astonishments await us, DNA of children is always different from parents. It is a bright line.

    You think and have often stated that I and people who think as I do occasionally see bright lines where none exist. But I think that you sometimes see amorphousness where distinction in fact exists. Observing each other’s overreach is what makes these conversations interesting.

  • Midwesterner

    Laird,

    Re abortion, after much thought over many years I concluded that new DNA = new human. From that point, much debate can ensue, but any argument based on the idea that a new human begins at some later point via some variation of meeting performance specifications is pretty well a non-starter that, via any number of routes, degenerates into permitting eugenically and socialistically motivated involuntary life termination without due process. I have a cousin who, due to an extreme illness at the age of two, will flunk just about any performance qualification one can set for ‘humanness’ short of ability to breath unassisted. I exaggerate only slightly, he can walk and knows quite a few words. I reject with prejudice any argument that leaves room for a claim that he is not entitled to human rights and due process, that he is in fact inhuman.

    Re death penalty, if your idea is to execute people to save money over life imprisonment, I’m against that incentive. If you believe government is good enough enough at what it does to entitle it to kill its citizens, well, I pay the most attention to areas where I have lived and here is yet another place I have lived (a neighboring county to the one I mentioned earlier) that has helped me decide to never extend the power to kill constituents to political processes. Illinois is a profoundly fucked up state and gullible voters may be about to take that fucked-uppedness national.

    Simply put, I believe in the individual rights of life, liberty and property. Compensating somebody’s mistaken forfeiture of property or liberty is at least to some extent possible. There is no way to compensate somebody’s mistaken forfeiture of their life. Those guys that 7 members of the DuPage law enforcement community spent 15 years trying to murder by judicial process? Well they were awarded over $3 million in compensation. What if one of the many efforts to murder them via the courts had succeeded? Almost always, evidence is destroyed after the cases are finally resolved so we would never know.

    I still don’t think you and I are very far apart. I just think you have more faith in political processes and determinations than I do.

  • RAB

    I think you have rather missed my point Gab.
    I would kill a murderer myself if I caught them in the act of attempting to do so, I just dont trust my Government to do so after the fact.
    My idea of Justice and theirs is demonstrably at odds with each other.

    Like I said, they have a political agenda, I do not.

    They said Life means Life when they repealed the Death Penalty.
    They have ignored that for the mere fact of the cost of keeping prisoners, prisoners.

    Perhaps if NuLab hadn’t passed over a thousand new bits of criminal legislation over the last 11 years that can get you a prison sentence, there might be more room inside for the evil fuckers who need to be there.

    Legalise Drugs and Prostitution for starters.
    That would clear the Augean stables of over half the current jail population and make ample room for the fuckers who really need to be there.

    I repeat I think a life sentence should be just that.
    So no worries about recidivists.

  • Sunfish

    RAB,
    Can crime prevention come from deterrence? I think so.

    Case in point: I know a divorced guy who named himself after bait and hangs out on other peoples’ blogs. Back when he was married, there were days that he and his ex-wife fought. Well, verbally, anyway.

    There were instances where he seriously considered popping his then-wife. What stopped him?

    A conviction of assault with a domestic violence finding would have definitely resulted in both jail and him never working in his chosen field again.

    That’s why he sat on his hands.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I do not trust my Government (even when I was a small cog in it) to get it right.

    That statement, I’m on board with. Even when everybody is acting in good faith, mistakes happen.

    Mid:

    Almost always, evidence is destroyed after the cases are finally resolved so we would never know.

    Holding it for 90 days after sentencing, and then disposal, is common. We’ll normally retain it after that if notified by the prosecutor that there’s an appeal in process, but that requires notification.

    Although it may not be relevant: findings on questions of fact (meaning jury verdicts) basically cannot be appealed in the US. It’s possible to appeal on the basis that the judge’s findings of law were so flawed that the jury could not have ruled on the case, but that’s slightly different.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    I repeat I think a life sentence should be just that.
    So no worries about recidivists.

    Yes, but how can you trust any human institution never to make a mistake? How can you trust any human institution to forsee every possible chance that a man convicted of murder will kill again–another prisoner, or perhaps a guard, if he doesn’t escape or isn’t let out?

    See, you apply an insanely strict standard to one side of the argument and are very casual about the other.

    See, I think death penalty convictions will be supported by such overwhelming evidence that I don’t worry about innocent people being convicted. You think I’m overly sanguine? No more than you about life sentences being equivalent to “never murdering again”, so you don’t have to worry about recidivism. You are making up a legal system now. So I can make one up where innocent people never get convicted.

    Again, you chose your position in advance. You use one logic to argue for it, and opposite logic to argue against critics of your stance.

  • RAB

    Well Sunfish if all law enforcement officers were like you, I would rest easy in my bed.

    The last time I saw one on the beat, was 2 years ago, round these parts.

    Presence is a deterent.
    But there is no presence now, the Gubberment has them all in doors in the station(the ones that are actually open for more than a few hours a day) doing paperwork.
    The rest are just driving around reacting to things rather than being interactive in the community they are supposed to police.
    The last time I saw a Policeman in my neighbourhood (apart from the two who told me my chimneypots had been stolen when I hadn’t even noticed, or could have cared less… line of least resistance see) I said woah! wait right there!
    What’s the problem Sir said he?
    Well it’s just that I havent seen one of you for several years. I just want to pop back to my house and get my camera.
    He almost arrested me for taking the piss!

    Are you absolutely sure you dont want to take that vacant Met job Sunfish?
    We would be so fuckin grateful! ;-)

  • Gabriel Hanna

    RAB, now that I see you are from the UK I understand better where you are coming from.

    But then, since you know that “life means life” is a goddamn joke in the UK, and you know what violent and property crime are like there, it makes even less sense for you to be arguing that life sentences are an adequate substitute for the death penalty.

  • RAB

    As for you Gab, give it a bleedin rest!
    I worked in the legal system for over a decade, have you?
    Theoretical bollocks about escaping prisoners etc etc are just that.
    Anything can happen to anyone at any time.
    The constraints are those built into society and it’s mores. By the people, who wish to live in a just not an unjust society.
    Rules written down didn’t stop Hitler invading Poland , and they wont stop the average murderer either.
    But a hell of a lot more policemen on the beat might help a bit vis a vis street crime, and getting to know how your local crim networks are operating.
    The Police are supposed to be US, not THEM.
    Right now, in the UK, they are WHO?

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Theoretical bollocks about escaping prisoners are just that.

    http://somd.com/news/headlines/2007/6916.shtml

    Three inmates and one officer were killed at the House of Correction in 2006. The other killings last year included the Jan. 26 shooting of an officer by a Roxbury Correctional Institute inmate in a Hagerstown hospital and the Dec. 9 strangulation of an inmate at the Jessup Correctional Institute.

    That’s just southern Maryland.

    I doubt the prisoners and guards murdered every year agree that it is “theoretical bollocks”

    More “theoretical bollocks”:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7674214.stm

    An inmate has been found guilty of ordering a murder from his cell using a mobile phone smuggled into the prison.

    Delphon Nicholas, 29, from Lewisham, south-east London, was convicted of murdering Andrew Wanogho, in nearby Brockley on 8 April 2006.

    The Old Bailey trial heard that Nicholas had made dozens of calls from his cell in London’s Belmarsh prison to gunman Trevor Dennie, 33.

    Dennie was also found guilty of murder but three other people were acquitted.

    You, sir, are simply refusing to think. And you are blaming the messenger, namely me.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    RAB, turn the argument around. I say, innocent people executed is “theoretical bollocks.”

    You wouldn’t accept that argument from me. I have no reason to accept it from you.

  • RAB

    Well Gab, I think I have made my position clear enough by now.
    On Abortion, I would not do it myself, but I do not feel I have the right to force that position on others.
    As to Capital Punishment, I do not trust the Government to do it, and I can think of no other power I would trust with the task either.
    So I prefer life to mean life. But as we have said we cant trust the Govt to do that either!
    So we will have to agree to disagree wont we?

    A piece of absolutely kickin music to soothe your savage brow good sir.
    Funnily enough Abortion is mentioned in the lyrics ;-)

  • tdh

    If you believe that a born homo sapiens has full human rights, you must logically believe that spanking is assault, forced timeouts are kidnapping, and circumcision is both an assault and a tort.

    Beings capable of rational — i.e. connecting ends and means — behavior are the reason we need rights. We don’t need rights to protect us against falling rocks or hungry bears.

    Whether and to what extent we extend these rights to other beings, including partially-developed or defective or senescent humans, depends in part on empathy but is mandated only by the need to protect rational beings. All else is optional, a matter of balance and of taste.

    We don’t need to execute abortion-clinic bombers because they are mentally defective, but rather, if at all, for a variety of reasons having to do with the choices they’ve made in taking actions on their beliefs. We’re lucky there are so few of them; killing is repugnant, even when necessary, in a civilized society.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Gabriel H,

    “Pa Annoyed, you atribute to me beliefs that I don’t have.”

    Sorry!

    “I don’t believe in souls, etc. And I explicitly denied the personhood of a fertilized egg. So argue with me, and not a straw man.”

    It was the word you used. But if you prefer personhood, feel free to make the substitution. What makes you think animals aren’t persons, other than the fact that humans are going to pick definitions to suit themselves? People have in the past defined other humans as non-people. So what’s the objective criterion?

    I see now that you did indeed deny the personhood of the fertilised egg. So what’s the argument?

    “Am I a person now? Then at some point I became a person, if I was not one to begin with. You can’t argue with that without denying my personhood NOW.”

    Actually, yes I can. I am arguing with the word “point”. The problem is, it isn’t a point, it’s a smooth transition over an interval. Black does not at some ‘point’ become white – it turns many shades of grey first. The problem is not having a word here analogous to ‘grey’.

    “The thing is, you think you are arguing against restrictions of abortion rights. My point is that your argument cannot be restricted to that.”

    Was I arguing against that? I thought I was arguing for clarity of definition.

    “You are questioning personhood in a way that forces us to legalize murder of persons who are unambiguously judged to be persons, if we want to be consistent. That is my point.”

    Who are you thinking of here? There are a number of ways we can achieve consistency. You simply pick a definition and pursue the implications fully. The problem with a lot of this debate is that people keep using their own definitions as if they were obvious, and then pointing out that the other person’s definition doesn’t match it. That’s not an inconsistency in the other person’s definition.

    If they were unambiguously persons, then their murder would be illegal. The problem is they’re not unambiguous.

    “There has to be a standard which everyone must follow, whether or not they believe in it, or civilized life is impossible.”

    Yep. That’s the role played by legislation.

    “Your argument says, well, what about vegans? Well, what about people who would restrict the definition rather than expand it, for example, people who think other races are not people? Do they get to kill them?”

    Yes. What about them? They’re another very good example.

    “Since this line of argument rapidly becomes pointless and silly, then why pursue it? There is no point in saying “what if we count a tumor as person”.”

    There are people who would say that to describe an insensate blob of cells as a person with rights as equally “silly”. There are others who would say the opposite. The point of such lines is to try to understand the foundations of the argument by looking at it from a different perspective – in the hopes that preconceptions and assumptions are less likely to get in the way.

    “I’ll try to say more but the spambot keeps squashing me.”

    Yeah, they do that. Comments usually come through eventually.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mid,

    “There is one, and only one, sharp threshold that I have found. [...] However, the formation of the new DNA, a new and unprecedented self configuring process for the construction of a human, is a bright line.”

    Most of the reconfiguration actually goes on when the parental cell randomly throws away half it’s DNA to become an egg or sperm. After that, the only question left is which sperm gets there first.

    Do you know the Monty Python song?

  • Midwesterner

    Actually, that is not reconfiguration, the is not a meaningful step for purposes of this conversation because nothing new is created at that time. I believe, if I am understanding the terminology correctly, the significant phase is synapsis. At the beginning of that phase, all DNA is parent material. At the conclusion of that phase, an unprecedented set of human DNA exists. It is actually a very narrow and concise time. If you want to stipulate that during that fairly brief phase within chromosomal crossover, percentages of a new human exist, I will grant that.

    Re the Python bit, to my non-RCC understanding, the wasting sperm thing and the anti-abortion thing have no relationship in their moral code. The wasting sperm thing I think is based on some Biblical injunction in the Old Testament somewhere, and is therefore a theological law. But after Biden claimed that opposition to abortion was theological law, several RCC theologians were quick to respond that it is not. Their stand on abortion was based on scientific review of when new life begins and then they extend normal human rights to everyone who is past that point. The theologians I saw were very strong that the problem with abortion was based on scientific merits, they believe that babies are humans beginning at conception, not birth. You have some knowledge of various theologies, maybe you know, they were emphatic that it was a scientific determination they were basing it on, not a theological one. Also, as is irrefutable now, birth is becoming a very controllable process. The idea that at 2PM on Wednesday a particular baby is either a lump of discardable refuse or a fully protected human being depending only on whether or not labor was induced at noon on that day is understandably repugnant to a great many people.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    Pa Annoyed:

    I thought I was arguing for clarity of definition.

    No, you’re hair splitting. You are arguing that we have to define something before we can do anything with it, and that is ridiculous.

    Your “continuum” argument doesn’t hold water. “Bald” is a continuum. Everyone knows that. But if we wish to apply a legal standard for “baldness” we have to come up with an unambiguous and arbitrary standard.

    Duh.

    Your pointing out that the standards are arbitrary, and thinking it makes a point about abortion, is exactly what I object to. It means you can’t define murder, rape, slavery… things that aren’t the subject under discussion.

    You can’t prove, from first principles, your own personhood or anyone else’s. So you are wasting time by bringing it up.

    Words means something. They mean something by how they are used. “Animals” and “tumors” are not subset of people, as the word is generally understood.

    We can discuss the morality of abortion in society as it exists, or we can discuss what the morality should be given that you and everything else in the universe is a dream that I am having, but one of these avenues leads to a productive discussion and the other does not.

    The question is, “Should fetuses be considered persons?”

    Replying to this question with “Why should anyone be considered a person” is just dumb. If there are no premises in common, then we have nothing to discuss.

    RAB: a straightforward admission of unwillingness to debate is also an answer.

  • RAB

    RAB: a straightforward admission of unwillingness to debate is also an answer.

    Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick Gab!
    If I had any idea what you are talking about I would debate it. But I dont.
    I have stated my opinions on the two issues pertaining to this thread several times.
    You appear to be telling me that I should support anti abortionism and also support Capital Punishment as the sane way to go for a Libertarian type of fella.
    I’ve told you why I dont.
    What did you not understand by my reluctance to endorse your views?
    Are you purblind or just a bit hard of understanding?
    Did you like the music by the way? or were you so up yourself you couldn’t be bothered to look?

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mid,

    Synapsis is indeed the relevant step. What I was talking about was meiosis as a whole, of which synapsis is a part, but I’m happy to narrow it further to synapsis.

    What I was trying to say was that there isn’t a single line. You’ve got meiosis when most of the genetic recombination goes on. You’ve got the race up the fallopian to the point where one sperm is in the lead and the winner is no longer in doubt. You’ve got the fertilisation itself – syngamy. You’ve got the wait while you see if the fused chromosomes are viable, which they’re often not. Assuming the cell starts to divide, you’ve then got implantation to achieve – if the egg fails to implant, then there’s no pregnancy. You’ve got a few days over which the zygote decides whether to split into identical twins or not – until it does, you’re not sure if you’ve got one person or two. And then you’ve got nine months of development to test viability at the multi-cellular level. Genes that don’t make up a workable human body are not really human, although you can certainly argue about whether this is simply unknown at this stage rather than undetermined. Is something true in potentia before it actually happens?

    My point is there are lots of lines, lots of stages, each of them as necessary to the end result as all the others. Any definition relying on genetic uniqueness has problems on one side with sperm, and on the other with twins and chimeras. Any definition relying on the end state being determined has problems with all the accidents of pregnancy. Any definition based on the potential for future people isn’t time-limited. Any definition relying on ability to feel pain, or self awareness, have problems with the fact animals have those properties too, and an adult non-human animal will be more aware of it than a human foetus. Many of the properties that make humans special, different from other animals, don’t actually develop until years after birth. Biology is just messy.

    Anyone can pick a definition and argue for it, of course. But others can and do disagree. It isn’t a question science can answer, simply because it is a long process, not a point event.

    Gabriel,

    I agree. As I said above:

    “People set boundaries because of the practicalities of our legal system. (Or the religious legal system.) You can’t ‘partly allow’ some all-or-nothing procedure. One day before the limit, go to jail as the worst sort of criminal scum, one day after, and there’s no problem at all.”

    But those boundaries are legal fictions – not reality. It’s like the one about not drinking alcohol until you’re 18. Nothing actually changes on your 18th birthday. I’m not saying that you should therefore sell alcohol to 2-year-olds; I’m saying that if someone comes along and tells you the threshold age is really 21, or that they think 16 would be OK, there’s no merit in calling them a nut job because of their inconsistency.

    The point I’m trying to make is that every time we have this argument, some people act as if their own definition was obvious and unarguable, and can’t understand how other people could operate by different ones. That’s why we get accusations of inconsistency and insanity and unworkable attempts at counters like the capital punishment argument. All I’m saying is that it’s not necessarily inconsistent, immoral, or insane – it may just be that they’re using a different set of definitions – and that dogmatic assertions of already known positions are unproductive – that it’s more interesting to consider the implications of these different definitions in the more complicated cases modern science has thrown up without having to decide who’s right and who’s wrong all the time.

    So far, Mid seems to be the only one playing. But I don’t mind.

  • Gabriel Hanna

    RAB: You really don’t get it.

    What I’ve been saying is that you oppose capital punishment just because you oppose it. You don’t have real reasons, only rationalizations. That’s all.

    I don’t actually care what you believe.

    You made arguments about state power and preventing murder that don’t hold up, that’s all. And it’s fine, because you’ve made it clear that you don’t care that your arguments don’t hold up.

    In the UK, where capital punishment has been illegal for nearly half a century now, it makes sense that you wouldn’t be interested in real arguments for or against, because it’s a dead issue.

    Pa Annoyed:

    it’s more interesting to consider the implications of these different definitions in the more complicated cases modern science has thrown up without having to decide who’s right and who’s wrong all the time.

    And my point is that for people who are trying to decide questions of right and wrong, it is boring and counter-productive–and science doesn’t have anything to say about personhood or morals, so it is irrelevant as well.

  • RAB

    I don’t actually care what you believe.

    Well that is as succinct and coherent a statement as you’ve managed throughout this entire thread.

    Good fuckin night to you!

  • Midwesterner

    P.A.,

    I have tried several times to pick a reasoned argument out of the general contrarianism that is your comments in this thread and after spending some time on it last night decided not to bother. The effort of winnowing the utterly irrelevant from the merely mistaken was too much. You first say there are no steps, that the entire process is one continuum. Then, apparently realizing the silliness of that argument, you say that in fact there are too many steps for any one of them to be meaningful.

    I think an appropriate Monty Python bit for this discussion would be the Argument Clinic. “No it’s not.”

    Via the wonder of state licensing and enforced absence of competition, the plumber that my brother was forced to use for his new house was very uncooperative and utterly incompetent. I have been spending the last several days (and will today as well) undoing and redoing correctly the guy’s remarkable mistakes. I don’t really have the time for this added work in the first place so I am not inclined to spend much more time on this discussion as the return on effort is very low.

    Incidentally, electricians can work without a license in our jurisdiction and the electrician he had was competitively priced and did work that was esthetically and practically excellent, followed the plans precisely and is fully safe and compliant with the code as well. Totally OT, I know but if I can rant a bit, government licensing lowers, not raises the quality of the work not to mention the rent seeking going on.

    Anyway, maybe we can revisit this topic sometime in the future when you have the time to sort out some of your thoughts better. Your comments throughout this thread have contained the tone of one arguing in support of an already present opinion, not in pursuit of the underlying truth.

    I don’t have time to pursue this much farther. It is a matter of epistemological flaws in your argument that need to be addressed but here is a sample paragraph from one of the comments I wrote and abandoned trying to address your many assertions. This one was aimed at your introduction of “too many steps” as a grounds that any one of them can not being meaningful. It may provide some interest.

    There are many steps in hunting a moose or making a china vase. From buying the gun and ammo, loading etc and concluding with moose steak in the freezer is a long process fraught with many potential pitfalls. But both the moose and the game warden would find firing the gun to be a singularly meaningful point in time. And in the long and complicated process of making a china vase, anybody would be silly to call the unfired piece a ‘china vase’ without the ‘unfired’ qualification. One process (firing a gun) is brief, the other process (firing a vase) is prolonged. But it is beyond debate that there are distinctly different states before and after each event. The complexity of making and painting a vase, or hunting and dressing a moose, do not make the ‘firing’ phases in anyway ambiguous. Those other pre and post phases are irrelevant to the question of when a moose has ended or a china vase begun

    .

  • Pa Annoyed

    Hi Mid,

    Well, I guess the thread has timed out anyway.

    Whether it is a continuum or not depends on your choice of definition. The actual definition in legal use is based on time, which is part of a continuum. But there are many ways of looking at it. The physical process is itself a continuous process of many steps, and while you can ignore instants like the discrete step from a ball of 32 cells to 64 as insignificant, while picking out the instant the DNA first zips together in the first cell as very significant, such labels are human conveniences; aids to understanding. I only presented the many steps to illustrate the weakness of the idea, that there are lots of steps that could have been singled out depending on the criteria. For legal purposes, you have to apply a criterion to turn the continuous process into an artificially discrete one. But it’s the range of legitimate criteria that is the cause of the argument, not the continuity of the process.

    However, rather than argue over whether it’s discrete or continuous, which isn’t really all that relevant, I’d much rather you have addressed the point that meiosis occurs long before syngamy, constitutes the first point where cells are genetically unique and distinct from the parent (per your definition), and yet is used by almost no one as the starting point of an individual with rights – except in a silly song taking the mickey out of the whole debate.

    To extend your moose analogy, it is as if you had eloquently argued the case for the instant of firing the gun as the only possible choice, while everybody else was busy campaigning for the bullet hitting the moose as the defining instant. If you shoot and miss, it’s no crime.

    Don’t worry about replying. I’m depressingly sure we’ll have this debate many times more.

    (And if you want me to stop being contrarian, all you have to do is agree with me. I’m only contrarian about viewpoints I think are wrong. Isn’t everyone? :) )

  • Midwesterner

    To extend your moose analogy, it is as if you had eloquently argued the case for the instant of firing the gun as the only possible choice, while everybody else was busy campaigning for the bullet hitting the moose as the defining instant. If you shoot and miss, it’s no crime.

    Touché. You are correct. Just like the moose, in the case of sex if you shoot and miss, it is not crime. :-)

    Here is an easy way you can get me to blow a gasket with no apparent provocation. Just say the magic words “licensed plumber” and I will begin ranting. I think we have fixed the last of the guy’s fixable errors, some can not be fixed with out major deconstructionism, but oy! I didn’t particularly like Joe the Plumber, thinking he was just another rent seeker, until I heard he was getting grief for not being licensed. Only then did I realize he really was a genuine small business person and not a member of a rent seeking demographic.

    I don’t want to pursue this (beginning of life) topic now, particularly in a dead thread, but it is a topic I have spent much neuron bandwidth on. It is a profoundly deep change win a brand new plan is created. Any amount of preparation whether by DNA stripping or whatever is really not significant. But the new DNA is a brand new plan and process for a new human. By looking for physical signs of ‘humanness’ rather than at the bigger rational picture, you are allowing yourself to be confused in seas of detail. New DNA, even in a single cell state, is a complete but unfinished human being. From that point on is, as you apply over widely, a matter of “a gradual increase in complexity and maturity and independence.” Although I would say realized complexity because the complexity is already there in the DNA.

    In some thread sometime when I have more time, we can chase this calf around the barn. It is something that is coherently rational across all arguments that I have heard so far. I do agree and have stated so, that a partially complete creation of new DNA is a (the) transition zone. All other times fit perfectly either into self-ownership of personal detritus or a person that is either dependent on outside persons or personally independent. I have been careful to limit my statements to the humanity of the new DNA and avoid discussing its rights. For example it has no more right to place non-consensual claims than anyone else does.

    Anyway, sometime we can lay it out in phases and discuss the status of each but that is a major undertaking.

    But don’t be depressed about the discussion. As soon as you understand the topic thoroughly, you will see the blinding light and no longer pursue your contrarian ways. Then we will agree and everything will be peace and happiness like the lyrics of a Fifth Dimension song. Or is it Bob Dylan? Or maybe Barry McGuire? 8-|

  • Pa Annoyed

    Yes, Mid, I agree. It’s an interesting topic in itself, the beginning of a new life, and not just human life. It’s just a shame it has to come up in the emotional heat of the abortion argument.

    Until next time.

  • Candace F

    What I found more surprising in my recent abortion research was the number of crimes against abortion clients by the clinics themselves. One clinic that was closed revealed that 1 in every 500 of its clients were physically and permanently injured, killed, or sexually assaulted. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only 56 women died from illegal abortions the year before Roe vs. Wade. However, since then over 44 million babies have been aborted. If you suppose that the clinic previously mention had twice the normal instance, that still leaves 176000 women injured, physically assaulted, or dead over 35 years, or over 5,000 women a year. I’d like to see some actual numbers on this.

  • LGG

    There are a lot of ‘beliefs’ here. But guess what. If you are pro-life than great you would probably not get an abortion. And good for you. The deal is , that’s you. Everybody including the government stay out of MY body!!! MY being the operative word here. What goes on inside me is my business!!! And you don’t get to decide for me. Believe what you will and make sure you live by your beliefs, and I will do you a favor and let you believe your way and will expect the same from you. Stay out of my head and body and spirituality. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  • asfsa

    It’s all good and dandy to be pro-life. I totally see that. But where does pro-life stop? I don’t get it. The killing of abortion clinic workers doesn’t exactly constitute the promotion of life. Life is not aided by murder. In no way can one claim to be pro-life if, in the name of life, one has killed. It is the same as radical Muslim terrorists–one cannot be Muslim and kill another human (it is also the same in Christianity). Killing in the name of life is the bane of mankind.