Wherein I Blog About Abortion

In response to Jeff’s question:

Kathy and Dan have both stated that they are Pro Choice and while I consider these great bloggers my friends, I have to completely disagree with them. Instead of boring you with my reasons why they are wrong and I am right I am just going to ask a simple question to you.

When Does Life Start?

Answer this question for me, and we will start the debate of why abortion should be outlawed. As I receive comments answering this question I will update the post for all to see the answers we get, and my responses.

Dan’s post is here; Kathy’s here. I am responding to Jeff’s question because I think he has inadvertently cut to the heart of the policy issue and given us a clue about why the abortion debate will never end.

One of the things that irritates me about most abortion “debates” is the terminology: You’re either a baby killer or a misogynist. But, and this where Jeff’s question comes into play, I think folks who talk like that are speaking over each other’s heads. Consider the arguments about abortion as syllogisms.

First, against:

Killing human beings is almost always wrong.

An unborn child is a human being.

Therefore, it is almost always wrong to kill an unborn child.

Second, for:

A woman has the right to do whatever she wants to do with her own body.

An unborn child is part of a woman’s body.

Therefore, that woman has the right to do whatever she wants with the unborn child.

So what is the disagreement? If it was really between misogynists and baby killers than the disagreement would be over the major premises. But no-one arguing for abortion would dispute that killing human beings is generally wrong. And no (sane) person arguing against abortion would dispute that women ought to control their own bodies. The crux of the argument is, to rephrase Jeff’s question, whether or not the unborn child is a human being.

To that, I say, I do not know. Rather, I have an idea, but that idea is not the type of idea I can lord over another. If you deny the Earth is round, or the sky blue, I call you an idiot because the answer to those questions is outside both of us. We can both look and see the correct answer. If you fail to see it, the fault is yours. If you deny that killing people is almost always wrong, again, I point you to the visible, tangible harms of killing. But if you hold a position contrary to me about abortion? My only plea is the authority of my own beliefs. I hold them, so obviously I find them persuasive, but I cannot point to anything outside my head (or the collective heads of like-minded people and organizations) to contradict you. I may ultimately be right, and my idea may actually have an existence outside my own head. But right now? It is absolutely subjective.

That it why the debate will never end. There is no conclusive evidence that a fetus is or is not a human being. It’s a matter of individual beliefs.

I’m not saying anything new. This was more or less the basis of Roe. Roe did not decide whether or not a fetus is a baby. All that case really did was re-direct the decision making power from the state to the individual. The Court’s words:

Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question. There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live’ birth. This was the belief of the Stoics. It appears to be the predominant, though not the unanimous, attitude of the Jewish faith. It may be taken to represent also the position of a large segment of the Protestant community, insofar as that can be ascertained; organized groups that have taken a formal position on the abortion issue have generally regarded abortion as a matter for the conscience of the individual and her family. As we have noted, the common law found greater significance in quickening. Physician and their scientific colleagues have regarded that event with less interest and have tended to focus either upon conception, upon live birth, or upon the interim point at which the fetus becomes “viable,” that is, potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks. The Aristotelian theory of “mediate animation,” that held sway throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe, continued to be official Roman Catholic dogma until the 19th century, despite opposition to this “ensoulment” theory from those in the Church who would recognize the existence of life from the moment of conception. The latter is now, of course, the official belief of the Catholic Church. As one brief amicus discloses, this is a view strongly held by many non-Catholics as well, and by many physicians. Substantial problems for precise definition of this view are posed, however, by new embryological data that purport to indicate that conception is a “process” over time, rather than an event, and by new medical techniques such as menstrual extraction, the “morning-after” pill, implantation of embryos, artificial insemination, and even artificial wombs. . . .

In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.

As a policy matter, that makes sense to me. The question is unanswerable, so leave it to the most directly affected individual to make up their own mind.

At this point, someone will say “The most directly affected individual is the child.” My initial reaction is to dismiss that as question begging. The issue is whether or not the thing is a child, so the assertion that it is a child cannot be part of the argument one way or the other.

Faulty logic it may be, however it does raise another important point, one sort of like Pascal’s wager. Granted that we cannot know whether or not the thing is a child, but whose guess, if wrong, would cause more harm? And would the results of the wrong guess be harmful enough to justify prohibiting the guess? In other words, what is worse, to support abortion if the fetus is a child? Or to oppose abortion if the fetus is simply part of the woman’s body? Then when that question is answered, is the resulting hypothetical harm so bad that no-one ought to be allowed to act in a way that would cause it, even though it is hypothetical? Should we, for example, refuse to allow anyone to decide for themselves that a six week old fetus is nothing but a body part because, if that person has decided incorrectly, that person has killed another human?

I’m not about to try to answer those questions. But I raise them for the same reason I wrote this post: To highlight the hazy nature of this whole problem.

 

 

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10 Comments on “Wherein I Blog About Abortion”

  1. Dystopos Says:

    I’m pretty much in the same boat, except I’d go ahead and say that the fetus’ life, while perceptible, belongs only to the biological parent before birth and that therefore the state has no vested interest in the preservation of that life until it puts its footprints on a birth certificate.

    The parents may put great stake in that life, of course, and should never be forced to abort it by the power of the state.

  2. hobgoblin Says:

    yawn, hawk and expectorate. you right wingers just kill me. oh, no freudian slip intended, you actually do kill me. I hope God is just God and forgives you of your sins.

  3. Jen Says:

    Huh?? I may be mistaken, but have you ever been accused of being a “right winger” before, Wheeler? It may just be me, but hobgoblin, your comment makes no sense.

  4. Mark Says:

    That’s a pretty reasonable approach. I would point out that the real question of when a foetus is a baby is not at either end of the gestation process, but somewhere in between. If you look at a fertilized egg very early in the process I think it is pretty obvious that it is not a baby. It has no brain, no nervous system, no capability of perceiving anything. At the other end, closer to birth, the foetus has become something that is immediately recognizable as a baby, and, at some point, it is capable of independent life. The real problem is deciding when the former becomes to close to the latter to consider abortion.

  5. wheeler Says:

    “The real problem is deciding when the former becomes to close to the latter to consider abortion.”

    i agree. i think that’s what scotus was trying to address in casey with the viability rule. pre-viability abortion is up to the woman; post-viability is up to the state. of course, saying there is a definitive point is very different from actually determining when that point is.

  6. KC Says:

    If one is not certain, it would seem to me that the default position would have to be that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion is wrong ( One thing i give the Catholic Church much credit for is its consistency on life issues)

    I strongly suspect that had ultrasounds and imaging of todays capability been available then, that Roe would have been decided differently.

    Hobgoblin…I hope He does too, but I suspect we’re talking about different things.

  7. Don Says:

    blue posted a lengthy interesting comment about this over on Jeff’s blog @ http://www.politicsinalabama.com/?p=1079#comments

  8. Kathy Says:

    Wheeler, you have a very good point about conception being more of a process than a discrete event. If one believes that a fully formed human life is created at the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, then one must also believe that God (or nature, if you prefer) is a mass murderer. A large percentage of fertilized eggs (I’ve heard estimates as high as 70%*) never implant in the uterus. Of the eggs that do implant, an estimated 30% spontaneously abort before the end of the first trimester.

    I would love to see the need (or demand) for abortion reduced to a bare minimum through a combination of better education and better access to effective contraception, both of which would reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancies, and better health care, which would increase the chances of a healthy outcome for pregnancy, but the I believe the decision of whether or not to carry a pregnancy should ultimately be left to the pregnant woman. To borrow a phrase, “safe, legal, and rare”.

    *The 70% estimate comes from an eminent physician/researcher at UAB who self-identifies as a pro-lfe evangelical Christian.

  9. Texas Redhead Loser Says:

    I completely agree with Kathy’s above post. I tend to lean way left on this issue. I know what is best for myself and my health and the thought of the state telling me otherwise (regarding such a life-altering decision, anyway) makes my head spin.

  10. JPW Says:

    I ask: Who here supports the death penalty?


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