less (legal and moral) light re: abortion

Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

Related Post Roulette

18 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Why not just say that abortion is a bad thing in most cases… but nowhere *NEAR* the bad thing that is the government preventing abortion?

    We came to that conclusion about being drunk, we seem nearer to that conclusion about being stoned…

    Why is that conclusion so avoidable for abortion?

    Is it that if something is morally wrong, then Something Ought To Be Done?Report

  2. Dara says:

    Viva la Mafia!Report

  3. Dave Hunter says:

    Am I the only one who notices that Kyle’s “plot-holes” are completely inane?Report

  4. Chris Dierkes says:


    imo, The drunk analogy is problematic. Or perhaps works against your point. If you get drunk (do something to yourself no biggie; if you get drunk beat the hell out of someone or crash into them with your car, then you are in serious legal trouble. Rightly so. [I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here]…Is abortion more like something you do to yourself (get drunk) or something you to do someone else (like drunk driving).

    To answer your question: Why not say it’s something bad but not as bad as the government preventing abortion (if someone believes the fetus is a human being) bc that would be doing harm to a being. It’s not then a single action done to the self.

    Nobody would argue we have the rights in society to get drunk and drive your car around endangering the lives of others.

    Simply put, why not say it’s bad but not as bad as the gov’t involving itself–bc someone doesn’t agree with that moral calculation. That was what I was trying to get across in the post. It’s extremely hard (if not impossible) I think to draw a strict line between the legal and the moral dimensions of the issue.

    It’s not necessarily that something is wrong, hence something must be done. It’s the question of whether there is a wrong in this case. If so, how wrong is this wrong? The degree of the wrong would seem to answer whether or not something should or should not be done in response, either to punish and/or prevent the wrong in the first place.Report

  5. Joseph FM says:

    I’d like to add something to Chris’s response to Jaybird. In addition to all those moral/philosophical obstacles, there’s also the practical fact that we only came to that conclusion regarding alcohol after banning it outright for a decade proved unenforcible. For that reason, I sometimes think this issue might net be resolved until we’ve had to deal with years more of illegal and dangerous abortions.Report

  6. Dave Hunter says:

    Let me put the question another way. When Kyle asks “What happens when a doctor, for medical reasons relating to the mother, induces early labor? Does he violate her right to abort the fetus up until the day of natural birth?”… uh, what, exactly, is he talking about? What is going on in his anecdote? Is the doctor inducing labor in a woman who requested an abortion, against her own will? Or what? How is this “plot-hole” in ANY WAY puncturing the argument that unborn humans can’t adequately be protected by the law?

    “If the fetus/child (depending on your pov) is halfway out of the mother’s womb–say the head and not the bottom half of the torso”

    You mean, the reverse of what happens in real life?Report

  7. Kyle says:

    Hopefully these answers will help Dave.

    To your first point about my examples being inane, I would agree that they are rare and perhaps a little silly. I think their value exists not in how common or uncommon they might be but in testing the logical applications of laws and/or philosophical claims. (i.e. Nozick’s utility monster)

    In the example you specifically question, the specifics of the situation are variable but the point was to address the date of birth. If up to the moment of birth, a woman has an unrestricted right to abortion, how does artificially moving up that date affect her right? It wasn’t a challenge to the argument that laws can protect the unborn; it was questioning whether Freddie’s idea that birth is the best ethical/legal line of demarcation for a protected right to live is as clear as it seems.

    “If the fetus/child (depending on your pov) is halfway out of the mother’s womb–say the head and not the bottom half of the torso”

    A breech birth, which according to WebMd occurs in 4% of births.

    Finally, these aren’t plot holes, I, for reasons relating to the late hour, chose to describe my thinking that way rather than to say skeptical.Report

  8. Chris Dierkes says:

    Uh Dave,

    Unless you’re thinking of cows/horses, most humans are born with the head out first. It does happen in the reverse (breech births–apparently according to my wife whose into this only about 5% of the time in human babies) but generally the trend is noggin’ first, body last. [Unless you meant something completely different in which case apologies. It’s late and my brain is shutting down. Sorry I read and re-read your comment like 8x, but I still think that’s what you mean].

    As to Kyle’s analogy–I think the specific one you mention doesn’t really cause a problem with Freddie’s view. If the doctor induces, and the baby is born earlier, then it has its rights earlier.

    The one I came up with has to do with a partial birth abortion scenario. This may sound pedantic/stupid, but when is the baby actually born? When do the rights get conferred by the logic Freddie laid out? Because if it’s not until the baby is fully born (and I presume that means cutting the umbilical cord even), then prior to that even if half-born (as it were) it has no rights and therefore could be aborted.Report

  9. Dave Hunter says:

    Kyle, it’s not that your examples are silly, and I don’t see how either of them are rare. It’s that they aren’t what you claim them to be: test cases that expose how difficult it would really be to live in a world where humans only attained the protection of the law at birth. Your examples just don’t make anything seem less clear-cut. In fact, even after reading your second explanation, I don’t see what you’re trying to illuminate.

    I’m sorry to push back so hard, because your posts don’t bother me, and there’s nothing wrong with throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what happens. What bothers me is that Chris Dierkes uncritically quotes you as if you’ve been successful in your rhetorical goals. You haven’t, and he should know better.

    Chris Dierkes
    “Unless you’re thinking of cows/horses, most humans are born with the head out first.”

    I think I misunderstood your intent. Yes, babies are born head first, but partial-birth abortions are performed on babies whose heads haven’t breached. This is for reasons that have to do with physics more than morality.

    I guess that’s what it boils down to. The reason I don’t consider it a moral quandary that a toe-in baby has attained legal rights, while a head-in baby has not, is that the entire argument is predicated on two colliding facts. One is that birthing the skull is mutilating, and the other is that no one really believes that unborn human life really has equal human rights. Nobody on the planet, nobody in human history. (OK, that’s a possible overstatement. Perhaps there have been a handful who sincerely would run into a burning building to save an embryo.) My stance generates from that collision.

    But most of us do think that unborn life has moral value, and we think of ourselves as people who value things that have moral value, and fret that we aren’t valuing it as much as our descendants who will have even more leisure time. So, Freddie shares his “quiet moments” and is applauded for his honesty.

    Well, not by me. I think Freddie, was being, though honest, also wishy-washy, self-indulgent, and unhelpful. He ought not to have published anything he had to qualify so many times as late-night, unaccountable whatever.

    What’s most irritating is the way his post has become a celebration of moral muddle, so long as it is felt by one side of the argument.

    Well, look, my stance is that it is clear-cut. I’m not buying any of this. Legal rights can be granted at birth. Or, we can completely reorganize society, rethink everything, and grant them at conception. No form of compromise between these two positions will cohere.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    Chris, I appreciate your response.

    I would say that abortion is obviously wrong. Why, just look at it. A woman makes a moral decision to terminate her own pregnancy. (This is not to say that the pregnancy is terminated by use of, say, Plan B is a moral issue… it’s no big deal at all.) Once we get into the 2nd trimester, the voluntary termination of a pregancy is something that, for lack of a better phrase, violates The Tao. (Note: I am not talking about entropic pregnancies and, even if I were, I am pro-choice and believe that abortion ought to be legal until the moment of crowning.)

    I don’t see how anyone could look at abortion after the 2nd trimester has started and say “yeah, no biggie (on the moral level)”. I can see how they’d say “get your government out of my uterus” first (and louder). I can see how they’d say “none of your damned business”. I can even see how they’d say that this was a personal choice that is difficult enough to make in the first place that is not helped by empty moralizing from someone who only shows up when there’s moral judgin’ to be done (but when help is requested, the person is nowhere to be found).


    But I don’t see how abortion after the 2nd trimester has begun could be seen as a morally neutral act. There can be mitigating or aggravating factors. There can be situations that make you say “I’d do the same thing.”

    But it ain’t neutral.


    Because that’s almost a baby. Not a parasite. Not a lump of cells. A baby.Report

  11. heather says:

    Wow. Are you serious? The baby that is half in and half out? Does a logical testing of philosophical claims include any reality at all or does it exist in a vacuum?

    Ever been in a delivery room? Ever talked to a woman about childbirth? Arguing about the percentages of breech births would indicate that you think reality has a place in the conversation. In what scenario could this possibility exist? One in which a woman who has made a decision to carry a child for a significant period of time enters into the intense state of childbirth. She is responding viscerally and instinctively to powerful physical, emotional and mental urges. These urges motivate her to do the work that is necessary to muscle the baby from the womb into the world. This is hard work, boys and it takes everything you have to do it. The only thing that makes it possible is the innate instincts to propagate; the rational mind is not even in the room. So you are telling me you think it is reasonable to conceive that a woman, who has not until this point decided to terminate her pregnancy, will change her mind when the child is half in and half out? While her brain and body are being inundated with the chemicals that have ensured the survival of the species she is going to bring herself back to her cognitive mind for the purpose of fighting those instincts and directing her doctor to harm her newborn?

    What a ridiculous waste of time.Report

  12. Chris Dierkes says:

    Oy. I didn’t really want this to go here, but I guess we’re here now. Warning–graphic language to follow.


    The scenario I had in mind, while rare, is the following:
    Wiki on Intact-Dilation-Extraction (aka Partial-Birth)

    So this is not some totally insane rambling on my part. It’s actually happened (again quite rare by my understanding). Labor is induced, part of the fetus is “extracted” (minus the head–in this case usually a breech birth artificially/manually forced) and then the abortion is performed.

    If rights start at birth, when does birth officially have taken place. That was the only point of the example. I don’t want to be pedantic-gruesome here. Nor was my point to get on an anti-abortion or anti partial-birth rant. The original point was simply to question whether the idea that birth=clear line. Not anything else.

    Now there could be arguments that such a process (for now illegal as I understand it) might be necessary in the case of danger to the life of the woman. In which case it wouldn’t be about (as in your comment) whether I could imagine some woman would want a last second abortion or not.

    But in that case, the question still remains for the rights at birth pov. Would those rights ever get trumped?Report

  13. E.D. Kain says:

    I hate this subject. I really do.Report

  14. heather says:

    Thanks for your response. I think your larger point is a valid one and I honestly don’t want to keep dragging you into meaningless side debates you don’t want to have, but when we discuss these slippery moral issues I think it is important to at least try to keep it real.

    In a case when a partial birth is necessary because the life of the mother is in jeopardy, why wouldn’t that fetus be delivered alive? In the situation where the mother’s intent to have the child remains unchanged, why would they stop a birth-in-progress to destroy the fetus? Wouldn’t they just finish the delivery and immediately take action to keep the baby alive?

    These are rhetorical questions and I am not going to argue that partial birth abortions never occur. I feel like these partial-birth abortion scenarios are always dragged out to use the old “take the argument to its logical conclusion” to make the muddiness goes away. It equates women who would choose an abortion with monsters who would murder their own healthy babies. So I just think it is weird that you used this exceedingly rare and oversimplified scenario to prove the murkiness of Freddie’s legal red line rule.

    More thoughtful nuance, less simplification please.Report

  15. Heather:
    I’m not sure how what Chris wrote was a simplification, given the point he was trying to make. He was not trying to caricature Freddie’s position or anything of that sort; nor was he trying to argue the morality of setting the line at birth using a reductio ad absurdum; he was merely trying to provide a variety of examples to show that drawing a line at “birth” still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, i.e., it’s not such a bright line. Whether the scenario he presented is rare or common isn’t really relevant.Report

  16. heather says:

    I take your point, Mark and will try to be more concise. I hear Chris urging Freddie to acknowledge that a bright line that delineates person-hood is neither bright nor a line and is troublesome to locate. I hear him asking Freddie to clearly articulate his reason for believing in the necessity of this line. I was not trying to attack these basic points. I too would love to hear Freddie’s response to these thoughtful nudges.

    What I was trying to challenge was Chris’s use of an outrageous scenario (the half-born baby) to demonstrate a claim that Freddie’s bright line wouldn’t hold up in the real world. If he is trying to challenge Freddie on the grounds that the person-hood line is really murky, I think he is responsible for coming up with a realistic example of how this is problematic, not just create a bizarre fantasy scenario that would most conveniently illustrate his point.Report

  17. E.D. Kain says:

    But partial-birth abortions were actual procedures that did take place up until they were recently banned. So Chris’s example is not outrageous in that sense at all. Nor is it unrealistic. It’s taking a real world procedure and pointing to how it makes the bright line murky.Report