The Abortion Debate

Okay, here we go, just for Kalle (so he can practice his l33t skills) and so we don’t derail Peter’s thread, here is the abortion debate thread. I’ll start out. I don’t really have strong views on this, because I don’t feel like I have the answer. So in this case, all your opinions most certainly will effect mine thus disproving Peter’s thread. Here are some thoughts.

I think a lot of this issue turns on when life starts, which has two obvious answers (1) at conception or (2) at birth. However, answer (2) gets muddy, because what happens if the fetus is viable, but hasn’t actually been born yet; say someone shoots the mother in the stomach at 8 months in and the mother survives but the fetus doesn’t – is that murder? If we create a third answer (3) when the fetus is viable outside the mother’s womb, we have a moving target. If we use this third answer as our legal definition, the point at which life begins will change as technology improves. At some point even the earliest fetus will likely be viable outside of the woman’s body. Having a definition of life which changes as technology improves doesn’t seem like a great idea legally and seems rather questionable from a moral standpoint as well.

As I stated in Peter’s thread, I simply don’t buy the “it’s part of the woman’s body, end of discussion, period” camp. A fetus is certainly not something like a pimple or wart that should be removed on whim. It’s not even like a spleen or kidney. Even if we don’t take answer (1) above and claim that it is life, it is potential life. In that respect it is certainly special.

I also don’t understand why this is an issue of privacy. Either destroying the fetus is right or its wrong. How does a woman’s right to privacy play into this? We don’t protect a robber or a murderer’s right to privacy. If we believe that harming the fetus is wrong, then that should take precedence over any right to privacy. On the other hand, if we don’t believe there’s anything wrong with removing the fetus, we should simply say so. How does privacy play in here?

Agreed, it really depends on how much weight you put on the “lifeness” of the fetus. But at some level by being pro-choice you are agreeing to terminate either life or potential life. Clearly that life or potential life has done nothing wrong. How can you callously throw that innocent life or potential life away while defending (by being anti-death penalty) the life of some scumbag who is on death row for murdering other human beings? *

Now if you assume the fetus really is simply part of the woman’s body, then there is clearly no incompatibility. But if you do think the fetus is somehow special, not simply cells that are part of the mother, then the viewpoints start becoming incompatible. The level of incompatibility depends on how special you think the fetus is.

[size=2]* I’m assuming the person convicted is in fact guilty. As I posted in Peter’s thread, I’ve become increasingly troubled by this assumption.[/size]

I’ll make some generalizations to start off.

This is not and never will be a debate free of fetters, because it is a religious mandate argument for the majority on one side and a personal, moral choice argument on the other. As long as one side believes it has a mandate from a higher, spiritual power, there can be no adequate resolution for them except their own.

For the “God owns the woman’s body” camp (self-styled as the “Right to Life” camp and now you know where my prejudices lay), life begins at conception and there is no argument, moral, scientific or ethical, that can be made to justify aborting that fertilized egg even 1 second afterwards. Thus, it is easy to brand physicians who perform abortions as murderers and it is no sin to kill them or to bomb clinics where abortions are performed. To them, there is no contradiction; they are “saving lives.”

As long as this is the case, the debate is meaningless. What really matters is how beholden lawmakers are to that camp, how effective the both sides are appealing to lawmakers (i.e. how many voters and how many $$$ can you provide?) and whether the lawmakers have the stones to resist the mandaters regardless.

What does “viable outside the mother’s womb” mean?

I should say that, not being a woman, I don’t really have any strong feelings on the matter. While I accept an abortion as a womans right, the loss of a potential life is something I do not activly approve of either. Discussing the matter though, I can play devils advocate. Also, my mad l33t skills are perhaps a bit overrated, but I do feel my thoughts on the matter are more developed than they used to be. Living in a country where abortion has been considered uncontroversial since long before I was born has dulled my debating skills a bit. Why debate what everyone takes for granted :)

First, the issue when life starts. Drawing a line is difficult, but to say a line cannot be drawn, or that any attempt to draw a line is arbitrary, does not really hold water. A one-week old foetus is no more a human being than an acorn is an oak tree.

However, a more compelling argument for abortion does not involve the drawing of a line at all. It asks if you must give up your body to preserve another human beings right to life, does the foetuses right to life trump the mothers right to decide over her own body. At first glance it seems obvious that the answer would be yes, but it is not. An example.

You wake up in bed with a violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He sufers from a severe kidney ailment and while waiting for a cure to be developed the society of music lovers has kidnapped you and hooked you up to his body so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood. You are naturally outraged when you hear this story upon waking up, but a doctor at the hospital you that while it is indeed unfortunate for you, and that they would never have permitted this had they known, you are now plugged into the violinist and they cannot unplug you because to do that would kill him, and all persons have a right to life, and the violinist is a person. But nevermind, it’s only for nine months, and then we will have perfected a cure for the violinist. Now, it would be very nice, indeed it would be extremely generous of you to agree to stay in bed with the violinist, but do you have to agree and stay in bed?

To claim that one has an abject duty to keep another person alive, which is what the absolute right to life means, leads to consequences no one is willing to accept.

Another way to argue would be to consider that one is not a person unless one has developed a consciousness, a view I am personally not willing to accept just yet.

[quote]And philosophically speaking, being pro-choice and anti-death penalty is not necessarily incompatible viewpoints. I don’t want to derail this thread completely so I won’t go into detail here

Agreed, it really depends on how much weight you put on the “lifeness” of the fetus. But at some level by being pro-choice you are agreeing to terminate either life or potential life. Clearly that life or potential life has done nothing wrong. How can you callously throw that innocent life or potential life away while defending (by being anti-death penalty) the life of some scumbag who is on death row for murdering other human beings? [/quote]

I’d like to state that my own viewpoints on the subject are not wholly compatible, because several of them incorporate utilitarian arguments while I am loath to fully accept utilitarian philosophy as a whole. That said, there is more to the death penalty than just right-to-life arguments, which I believe I did a good job of discrediting, at least, in my abortion example.

For one thing, the death penalty is an abject form of mental torture. The fear of death is one of the strongest emotions possible, the death penalty not only kills people, they have to live with the knowledge of their impending death for years. The alternative, to perform executions immediately after the trial is impractical because it will lead to the death of innocents.

[edit]Hey, my 1000th post, and I didn’t waste it on a trivial one-liner. :) [/edit]

[edit 2] Thanks to Erik for reminding me to give credit, the violinist example is taken from Judith Jarvis Thompson’s essay “In Defence of Abortion”. It was never my intent to take credit for it. [/edit 2]

That is very true. But I think it is wrong to underestimate the radical depth of commitment that lies on the opposite side of the spectrum as well. Many people assume that because someone is avowedly secular it makes them automatically free of religious constraints; I think there are “secular faiths” from socialism to radical feminism that are sufficiently similar in substance to conventional religion that they may be considered analogous. The abortion debate is a fine example.
While you have plenty of sincere, decent people on both sides, you also have (as a counterbalance to the Pat Robertsons) situations like this where NOW demonstrates it is not actually pro-choice but in favour of abortion per se.

Anyhow, I adhere to a moderate (well, on a libertarian scale) perspective on the matter. While I find abortions of convenience morally repugnant (of course, there are always plenty of legitimate reasons to get one, that isn’t the issue that is tricky), I think it is far worse for the government to become involved in the matter by criminalizing abortion. Why?
-It is just as fucked up as the woman killing her baby that the government presume the right to force a woman to bear the child to term.
-Criminalization like with so many other grey area acts does not serve as an effective deterrent for abortion. I want girls dying on kitchen tables far less than I want abortions symbolically stopped.
-I believe that social pressures are the most effective means of stopping abortion from happening. By that I don’t mean some asshole telling a scared teenager she’s going to hell, I mean making sure to provide a lot of reasonable alternatives to abortion. Then offer free ultrasounds, because I think it is a rare mother that can see her baby wiggling about and still want to kill it.

Like I said earlier, I rarely have a problem with pro choicers. It is the people that have become pro abortion, be it as some sort of feminist liberation thing or simply moral stupidity. It should be legal, but it should always be the last, worst alternative.

Is there really anything to debate? Either you think it’s killing and it’s wrong or you think it’s not and the woman has the right to chose. Since there are no hard facts that really clear up anything, what should we debate? Neither side has a rebuttal to the other’s main points.

I have to admit that my opinion is abortion is not a topic worth debating. Certain topics can have progress made through debate and discourse, I feel abortion has gotten to the part where the debate has hit a brick wall.

The point with Judith Jarvis Thompson’s strange violinist example is that even if the fetus is a person it doesn’t necessarily follow that abortion is wrong.

I understand the point of that example, although I find it to be a really stupid example to make that point. But I don’t think it refutes what I was trying to say. And another problem I have with the abortion debate is the need to come up with these parallel stories to try and justify different circumstances. It clouds the issue which is extremely simple. Which comes first, the baby’s right to life or the mother’s right to govern her own body. Introducing examples of dying violinsts and kidnapped kidneys is a wasteful diversion. The problem remains that the simple question cannot be answered with facts alone, so either you believe one or the other. In my opinion, debating beliefs is a fairly futile excercise (unless you need it to explore your undecided beliefs).

I’d just like to point out the entire argument seems a bit moot. What, are they going to tie pregnant women to a bed for 9 months if they want an abortion?

I’ve always approached this issue from a somewhat different perspective than either of the major camps. I have no problems with abortion, but only up to a point. That point is when the fetus develops a functioning brain. Before then, I don’t see that undifferentiated mass of cells as human, but as a potential human.

In my opinion, the soul, if it exists at all, is an emergent property of higher order brain function. Once those functions begin, the fetus is a distinct entity deserving of legal protections in all but the most extreme of circumstances; before that point, it has no more rights than a hangnail.

Obviously, neither the right-to-lifers nor the right-to-choice crowds like me at all. I can deal with that. It’s my usual state of affairs. :)

If all the money spent by the idealogues on both sides to battle each other were instead spent on research and development of conception prevention, there would be no abortion debate today. That would be bad for political business though, those wingers need their hot button topics to polarize the voting masses.

In the future, there will be no unwanted pregnancy. The only question is how long until we get there. The more people cling to their ulterior motives (the ‘right’ to force a woman to live with a parasite for 9 months vs. the ‘right’ to murder an unborn child), the longer it will be until we move past this archaic issue.

I’m pro-choice.

My beef with the people that are pro-life for religious reasonsisn’t the fact that they oppose abortions, but that they also want to oppose birth-control in the first place and any sort of sex-education that could reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore, the number of abortions.

There’s truth to that, but it’s a bit of a generalization. I’ve known pro-lifers who were also staunch birth control and sex ed advocates, and have read articles (that I can’t link because I don’t remember them that well) written from a similar perspective. They may be in the minority, but they’re still fairly common.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of the extreme pro-life crowd (particularly the catholic wing) believe that any form of contraception should be verboten as well.

I know they exist, but as you say, they’re a minority, and I don’t think they’re the ones driving the pro-life bus.

Yes, the ulterior motive of the puritanical pro-life movement is pretty clear. Sex is dirty. Most don’t seem to care that abolishing abortion would only drive it underground, and do little to actually prevent the death of the unborn.

However, I find the ulterior motive of the extreme pro-choice camp to be no less distasteful. What better way to demonstrate your rights as a woman than to murder an innocent unborn child that lives inside of you?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard this position from anyone.

It’s a Pat Robertson tall tale, if I remember correctly. He said there was some feminists out there who’d intentionally go get pregnant and then have an abortion to demostrate to themselves that they were independent of the control of men. A bit like Reagan’s welfare mom with 6 Cadillacs…

I live in SF and have heard it with my own ears from feminazis. Granted they are a radical voice and it is doubtful they would ever purposefully impregnate themselves just to have an abortion. I think the morbid glee they expressed over having an abortion was more about spiting the right wing than killing a fetus.

Still, I think you would be hard pressed to convince most radical feminists that it was their obligation to prevent unwanted pregnancy, even if there existed a safe, cheap, and foolproof means of doing so.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard this position from anyone.[/quote]

I think kinda sorta Billie Jean King.