George Tiller

“It is out of characterfor the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient. The basic instinct of the left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves. And that instinct is absolutely sound. It’s what keeps the human proposition going.” ~ Mary Meehan

I wrote a while ago that I am a professed culture war pacifist.  As the years have gone by and I’ve grown older and (a little bit) wiser, I’ve also become a pacifist in the more traditional sense.  Where once I saw virtue in strength – in the good fight, as it were – I see now only pain and confusion.  War rarely achieves what it sets out to achieve, and victory is at best a mixed bag.  Terror is often in the same futile camp, but as Matt Yglesias notes:

Every time you murder a doctor, you create a disincentive for other medical professionals to provide these services. What’s more, you create a need for additional security at facilities around the country. In addition, the anti-abortion protestors who frequently gather near clinics are made to seem much more intimidating by the fact that the occurrence of these sorts of acts of violence.

In general, I think people tend to overestimate the efficacy of violence as a political tactic. But in this particular case, I think people tend to understate it.

Tiller’s death is the culmination of years of culture war propaganda, fear tactics, and Christianity gone bad.  Religion is not in and of itself good or evil, but in the hands of villains and fanatics it can be a dangerous thing – much as any ideology can be, though there is indeed something more frightening about the religiously charged fanatic.  The pro-life movement has gained nothing from such fairweather spokespeople as Bill O’Reilly who is in it not for the preborn but for himself, not for any particular cause but rather ratings.

In any case, this is not only a blow against life – and specifically the life of George Tiller, who has been brutally ripped from this world and from the lives of his loved ones – but against the pro-life cause.  And not just the specific political cause, either, but against life itself.  Against all causes for life – be they anti-war or anti-abortion or anti-death penalty.

Now I’m not really sure where to place myself on the generic political playing field.  In many respects I would call myself a progressive; on others I might be aptly titled a conservative.  I’m a localist, a decentralist, but I also favor social safety nets.  I’m against a pervasive government, but not against a welfare state.  I’m against military expansion and incursions upon our civil liberties by the state (and big business) but I am in favor of state services, progressive taxes, etc.  On gay rights – and rights in general – I fall amidst the left or the libertarians.  But as Nat Hentoff – an atheist and a leftist – has often noted, progressive politics are ostensibly about protecting the rights of the weakest among us and yet his fellow progressives fail to see how the preborn (or unborn) are, in essence, the by far the weakest of the weak, the most helpless of the helpless.  The right to choose, in contemporary progressive thought, trumps the right to be born (and the preborn have no such capacity for choice).

In the 1960’s and 70’s federal doctors sterilized young American Indian women without their knowledge or consent.  This was preemptive genocide on the part of the U.S. Government (which had played at different forms of genocide against the aboriginal peoples of this continent for sometime).  I bring this up to point out that the culture of death, in the hands of the state, can be used as a tool of efficiency.  Forced euthanasia is not such a far-fetched fantasy.  Abortion is already most common amongst the poorest citizens, and especially amongst blacks, single mothers, and so forth.  It is indeed far cheaper to abort than it is to pay for welfare, law enforcement, etc.

And yet the pro-life movement has made, time and again, a mess of their cause.  They have created a divisive cultural battlefield.  Potential progressives who oppose abortion – or moderates, for that matter – who might otherwise join the pro-life cause are repelled and repulsed by this divisiveness – this guilt by association.  (They are often also ostracized from their progressive circles, I might add, which are often none too keen on dissent over this issue.)  Even though this murder represents the exception rather than the rule, it and the sort of hateful rhetoric that accompanies it (Operation Rescue propaganda, for instance) have been and will continue to be symbolic of the movement at large.  This, as well as support for preemptive war, the death penalty, etc. denies the essential continuity I discussed in my last post – and goes against Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life.” [pdf]

The killing of George Tiller will be politicized.  And it is indeed a blow to the pro-life cause, as well as a blow to the rule of law, as intimidation and lawlessness are used to frighten and drive away law-abiding, if misguided, doctors.  This sort of terror, as Ygelesias noted above, works at the micro-level.  More broadly, however, it plays into the hands of the pro-choice cause, and the adamently and unflinchingly pro-choice President we now have; and it creates a climate in which this issue is even more difficult to discuss, to find common ground upon, to yes, even compromise.

But beyond this, the death of this man should be seen as a unique tragedy, separate from the abortion debate even though that was what brought it about.  Every life is sacred, and one has just been ruthlessly torn from this world and from those whom he loved and who loved him.

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57 thoughts on “George Tiller

  1. I apologize for sounding like a fanboy, but I just need to tell you, that I can’t express enough my admiration and respect for your intellectual honesty and courage. These arent easy questions and there arent easy answers. Sometimes (often?), pacifism takes more courage than warmaking.

    Bravo. i was hoping you’d weigh in and you haven’t disappointed.

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  2. The description of Tiller’s murder as an act of terrorism is one that makes sense to me.

    The act was more than a mere act of murder. It was also intended to send a message… and, indeed, it sent one. I’m not a huge fan of the category of “hate crimes” but this strikes me as one that would fit the definition. It wasn’t about the murdered, particularly. It was about those watching (all over the world).

    In bringing up “terrorism” in the first place, one cannot help but make comparisons to other recent kinds of terrorism and see how neatly certain statements can have words substituted in and out.

    “It’s not true that all Christians murder abortion providers, but all murderers of abortion providers are Christians”, is the first that jumped to mind. I’m sure I’m not the first to put that one to paper (proverbially).

    My main worry is that the government will overreact, again, in response to terrorism and cater to those screaming that Something Must Be Done, again, and we end up with another law enforcement wish list similar to PATRIOT that will be about as effective as preventing terrorism as the first version (it’ll be gangbusters when it comes to marijuana busts, however).

    And those who had opposed Bush’s power grabs, ostensibly on principle, will explain how more law enforcement power is necessary… and those who supported Bush’s power grabs will find that they have no leg to stand on (but, of course, that won’t stop them from rediscovering The 9th Amendment, among others).

    And everything will be worse for a great many people, and little will be better for very few outside of law enforcement.

    Ah, would that this had not happened. It is going to make a great many things worse for a great many, many people. To cheers, more’s the pity.

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  3. (But in all honesty the comments section here is bloody amazing. You guys/gals seriously enrich this blogging experience, and the other OG’s, from what they’ve told me, agree entirely.)

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  4. Jesus stated “He without sin among you let him cast the first stone at her.” Some religious still stone raped women & own women. Who should own them as a slave? Exodus describes no penalty for women who choose to terminate pregnancy, nor does any Bible verse.

    Medically, a fetus becomes a baby at its first breath. Then, siblings recognize it & it’s named, christened, given citizenship, & celebrates zero. Unless you’re a surrogate, the only way to give rights to unborn is to take away women’s.

    Check out the extremism: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jun/01/george-tiller-abortion-doctor-murder

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  5. B2B – a couple things. First the Bible does say “Thou shalt not kill.” So then it comes down, once again, to defining “life.” And that is where many people part ways.

    And yes, “rights” as they always are consist of oft-at-odds interests. The right of the slave to be free went directly against the right of the slave-owner. Likewise, the right of a fetus to draw its first breath and become medically “human” will contradict the right of the mother to choose. Such is the dynamic of human “rights.”

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  6. Aziz, I suspect that we are about to see discussions that will mirror, almost exactly, those that followed 9/11.

    Paragraphs that begin with “Well, you have to understand…” that explain that these were merely chickens coming home to roost.

    Paragraphs that explain that “all of them believe this! They know better than to say it to people they know aren’t like them but all of them believe this!”

    Paragraphs that explain that, maybe, we should ban certain *TYPES* of abortion and then everything will be okay because Tiller’s murderer and his enablers have reasonable demands if you can get past the whole “murder” thing.

    Paragraphs that explain that nothing will ever be the same again.

    Paragraphs that explain that nothing, really, has changed.

    The interesting part will be the comparisons of paragraphs from this or that person who has archives dating back to 2000 and watching him or her sputter and explain how, seriously, this is different.

    For small values of “interesting”, anyway.

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  7. And yet the pro-life movement has made, time and again, a mess of their cause. They have created a divisive cultural battlefield.

    This is true, unfortunately. It amazes me how many of the pro-life movement’s actions are clearly counter-productive, resulting not in public consensus, but in the alienation and angst that comes from perpetual cultural war-making. Personally, I think the movement would do its cause a world of good just by avoiding language that demonizes, demeans, and alienates – in sum, violent language. Until the pro-life movement can persuade the majority of Americans to embrace its philosophy, its legal victories will be fleeting. Calling people baby-killers, abortion enthusiasts, and merchants of death doesn’t persuade.

    – Fanboy #42

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  8. What a horrid, horrid thing to have happen.

    I know nothing of the patients Dr. Tiller routinely saw in his practice. But it seems clear that many of them were genuinely in need of the services he provided because the “pre-born” babies they were carrying had defects that were incompatible with life. Indeed, having cared for patients diagnosed very close to term with defects that preclude all but the most painful and hopeless of lives, I believe that he was providing many (if not most… how can I know?) women with care they needed and could not get anywhere else.

    One small point to make about abortion among our nation’s poorest. One might get the impression from your post that this is somehow akin to forced euthanasia and our nation’s history forced sterilization of Native American women. I would put forth that abortion is freely chosen by those young women, and is not in the same category as those other evils.

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  9. Two points, Dan – first, yes it’s horrible. And indeed, in some circumstances (life of the mother, the almost certain death of the baby) I can see where this might be necessary.

    Second – no, of course it’s not the same as forced euthanasia, but there is a striking parallel – and something shuffled under the covers if you think about it, also. It is much more convenient to provide abortions than a strong safety net for people in the poorer echelons of society. Of course, conservative economic policies almost insure that such poverty will continue as class gaps widen – so therein lies another irony.

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  10. E.D. , you were the only one I saw willing to speak to the Beck problem.
    Such courage.
    I think this is simply the end of the prolife movement.
    But the time they recover from this branding, we will have functional ectogenesis, and they will have no cause.
    I still don’t really believe the prolife movement is all about teh Unborn.
    A lot of it is about power, and who controls teh wimmens.

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  11. matoko – there is some of that, to be sure. But there are also a good number of people genuinely concerned with life and what they see as an injustice. Nat Hentoff could hardly be lumped into the “theocon” or women suppressing club, for instance. But certainly there is some of that going on as well.

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  12. And thanks for the “courage” comment but honestly “when you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose” sort of comes to mind. In the scheme of things I’m just a lowly blogger trying to make sense of things. Fox and the con-movement could give a flying &*$! about me. You know?

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  13. I wholeheartedly agree with your latter point, E.D. An additional tragic aspect, and one I didn’t really explore in my own post a little while ago, is that adoption is hardly ever discussed as an option in practices such as the one where I worked in New York.

    And I respectfully disagree that this is the end of the pro-life movement. Far too many people oppose it too ardently.

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  14. Potential progressives who oppose abortion – or moderates, for that matter – who might otherwise join the pro-life cause are repelled and repulsed by this divisiveness – this guilt by association.

    Yeah, pretty much.

    I’m opposed to abortion in principle, in the sense that I assign more rights to even a young fetus than would be outweighed by convenience, (but are well outweighed by the mother’s health, rape, etc, etc), but I wouldn’t touch the official pro-life movement with a 100 yard pole. I would not attend a pro-life meeting, I would not request pro-life literature, and I would not join a pro-life organization. Because they’re rotted with messianic self-righteousness.

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  15. The rights of the already-born trump the rights of the unborn. Yes. That’s what this progressive/liberal thinks.

    Unfortunately, this murder is not unique. It is the natural result of the criminally muddled thinking that has provided cover for restricting the rights of women and forcing a religious agenda on all of us.

    Nance

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  16. The issue that i necer see addressed is individuality. The pregnat women is obviuosly a legal individual; the fetus is not under law – except when someone injures the mother and that results in the fetus dying, in which case that’s murder – except it’s not if the mother does it of her own free will. The law is in a mess over this.

    And obsessing when human life begins gets us nowhere. It’s all human life by any standard, s that’s beside the point. That’s not the issue and it helps us not at all towards getting t an answer.

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  17. Perhaps the rights of the born trump those of the unborn because to be human is to be a political animal — one needs the capacity to interact with others in the world. This might explain in part why capital punishment is more heinous than abortion or doctor-assisted suicide, since the latter deal with life at the extremity, when the capacity to interact is limited or non-existent. I’ve been reading Hannah Arendt lately, though I don’t think she ever weighed in on these issues specifically. Thanks for the post. I’m a pro-lifer in principle, but you clarified for me why I could never join the pro-life movement. We need good writers to point out the obvious every now and then!

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  18. “And I respectfully disagree that this is the end of the pro-life movement. Far too many people oppose it too ardently.”
    Dan, ectogenesis is simply going to make the prolife movement obsolete.
    What is a movement without a cause?
    Nothing.

    E.D. , you’re my hero. You and Conor.
    But when will Ross Douthat weigh in? Isn’t he the Grand Annointed High Conservo Intellectual now?

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  19. We live in a culture of death, a culture where mother’s kill their unborn for matters of convenience. The abortion issue is excellent at revealing those who are derailed and live in a “dreamworld of doctrinaire existence” and those engaged in recovering the tension of existence that has been lost.

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  20. We live in a culture of death, a culture where mother’s kill their unborn for matters of convenience.

    That is a lie. Late term abortions are always associated with horrific prenatal genetic disease affecting the health of the mother and child. No one chooses a late term abortion for “convenience”. Its expensive, difficult, and traumatic. You, Bob Cheeks, are a whited sepulchre. Go adopt a snowflake embryo.

    Ross hasn’t put up his weekly post yet.

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  21. haha, he just did….on Sotomeyor.
    Gus, that is the other reason the prolife movement is doomed. Prolife sentiment was trending up in the polls, but the mask just slipped.
    The real face of the prolife movement isn’t thoughtful, rational Ross Douthat— the real face is classic terrorist fundamentalist Scott Roeder.
    Thanks for the reality check, prolifers.
    And for reminding us all who you really are.
    Dig Angelou….

    When someone shows you who they are, believe them……the first time.

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  22. First, the left supports abortion rights because it identifies with women as the underdogs in this case, since they are forced by the state to undergo forced pregnancy and childbirth, as if their own bodies do not belong to them. I know of no such laws that apply to men.

    The left doesn’t support the unborn because it doesn’t see them as being actual human beings with rights. If it did, it would be against abortion. As it is, it sees freedom from state control over women’s bodies as being the more important issue at stake here. Which doesn’t mean the left likes abortion, it just feels that it’s up to the women to choose to bear a children, and not for the state to force her to.

    Second, the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was never applied to abortion in the OT days. Nor was it applied to killing on a battlefield, or execution of criminals, even those whose only crime was being homosexual or committing adultery (to be punished by stoning to death). So it is quite right that the Bible never explicitly mentions abortion as either a crime or something prohibited. Whereas, if you read leviticus and other sets of rules laid forth in the bible, there are endless injunctions about all kinds of petty issues, including what to do with women while they are in their menses. ANd yet, nothing about abortion. One would think if it were so important to the God of the OT, it would have been mentioned. And of course, Jesus and the NT doesn’t mention it either. It was certainly practiced in those days, however, so leaving it out suggests it was never even considered a sin worth mentioning.

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  23. “The real face of the prolife movement isn’t thoughtful, rational Ross Douthat— the real face is classic terrorist fundamentalist Scott Roeder.
    Thanks for the reality check, prolifers.
    And for reminding us all who you really are.”

    A few posts up:

    Paragraphs that explain that “all of them believe this! They know better than to say it to people they know aren’t like them but all of them believe this!”

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  24. Matoko, perhaps you are privy to information I am not, but I am not aware that ectogenesis is quite so nigh. Presumably the same societal elements that oppose abortion and stem cell research will voice a similar opposition.

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  25. Yesterday E.D. began this entry with these words, “I wrote a while ago that I am a professed culture war pacifist.”

    Today John Cole, Balloon Juice, offers a variation:

    “What this country really needs right now is a serious case of mind your own damned business. We’ve turned into a nation of busybodies and scolds, and people just need to back off. And that goes for the people opposed to and trying to make illegal Andrew’s [Sullivan] marriage, for people like Andrew who sound like they want the weight of the law to come down on people making tragic medical decisions that lead to late-term abortions, for the nutjobs who thought they knew better than Michael Schiavo how to handle his horrible situation with his wife, to the lunatics screaming ‘murder’ when we do stem cell research, and so on.

    “I’m really sick of the crap, and I don’t mean to harsh completely on Andrew, because I sense he does struggle with these matters. But if Andrew’s conscience can’t support a late-term abortion, then right now he is sitting pretty, because under our current system, anyone who doesn’t want an abortion doesn’t have to have one. And that really should be the end of that.”

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  26. “We’ve turned into a nation of busybodies and scolds, and people just need to back off.”

    We’ve always been one. Someone else’s ox is getting gored, that’s all.

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  27. Sometimes I think men will never understand what it is like to be always aware of your biology. Women are rarely free to be simple humans. From puberty onward your body is a public space. Every month your blood communicates to you that you are the portal through which every human emerges, whether you like it, embrace it, or not. Your personal life is, as the Catholics say, always “open to life.” I also think that personhood can not be an off-or-on measure but exists, like so many things, on a continuum. The question of abortion comes out of our biology, so I think we should pay attention to what biology says. A great percentage of fertilizations fail implantation, and the fetus is not viable for many months. What is irrational or immoral to reserving an early “yes or no” to the woman who will have to nourish and protect the baby for the last three months of gestation, when the burden is increasingly heavy? And the labor, oh no, don’t forget the labor, the time when a woman’s danger is most acute. The religious pro-lifers seem to sentimentalize pregnancy as if it encapsulated by the image of the month-old baby wrapped in a clean blanket and not what comes before.

    For many women a great part of our resistance to the pro-life movement is that we know they want to continue on to ban contraceptives. Many of us interpret this as a wish to control women’s sexuality, indeed our entire futures. It does not help us modify our perceptions that the big three monotheistic religions locate sin in women’s disobedience and have oppressive descriptions and prohibitions of us. And that that fact keeps our biology our fate and our only fate.

    I know Mr. Cain that you are a father, and that it’s such a pleasure. I think also that you might have trouble with the absolutists who would deny abortions even for rape or incest; that kind of child-bearing is not a pleasure,

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  28. I’m not an absolutist, to be sure. I don’t even support banning abortion because of the black market it would create. I also support contraception use and availability. There is room, somewhere in all of this, to find middle ground. I think in the end pretty much everyone wants to eliminate abortions to whatever extent possible – it’s just the how that accounts for the major differences.

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  29. “Sometimes I think men will never understand what it is like to be always aware of your biology.”

    I guess the grass is always greener in the other bowl, Kathie. Sometimes I think that women will never know what it is like to always be aware of your biology, and to walk around with a constant hard on for five years. Or fifty.

    E.D., that article touches on the issue of individuality and goes to some of the conflict – basically the Enlightenment and Roman Catholicism’s losing rearguard insurgency. Fine. The problem is that Roman Catholicism is build to some extent on the individual – individual baptism recognizes the primacy of the individual in the Church. And that makes it fundamental to the European worldview. so we are stuck with this dilemma unless we decide to lighten up on our concept of the individual and our making it central to our political and legal system.

    I can guarantee you that this argument just doesn’t come up in a Confucian culture. The fetus is a person? It isn’t? So what. Person or not, you’ll marry whom your elders arrange, you’ll study what they decide, and if they decide to sell you to finance your brother’s chance at an education, that’s their prerogative and your duty. And if a member of the family commits some heinous crime, bad enough that one execution is not penalty enough, you can expect to be on the chopping block too, just by fault of being blood kin. The family comes first; you are just a link in the chain of generations.

    In such a worldview, abortion is a matter of simple cost-benefit analysis and that means the costs and the benefits to the parents as agents of the family. That’s why so many female fetuses are aborted in China; they don’t continue the family, they continue someone else’s family.

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  30. “The question of abortion comes out of our biology, so I think we should pay attention to what biology says. A great percentage of fertilizations fail implantation, and the fetus is not viable for many months. What is irrational or immoral to reserving an early “yes or no” to the woman who will have to nourish and protect the baby for the last three months of gestation, when the burden is increasingly heavy? ”

    Kathie, this makes total sense to me. I guess I am more Confucian than Christain when it comes to family life and matters of reproduction.

    Fiorst, you make a very valid point that I rarely see made: nature terminates lots of pregancies. If we are so willing to harness nature, or overrride it and bend it to our purposes in every other area , and after all, that is what civilization amounts to, then why is it off limits for us to do the same with regard to reproduction?

    Individuality – this is to a large extent to a social convention. There is a biological defintion of individuality, the immune response, but is that all we mean by personhood?

    “Many of us interpret this as a wish to control women’s sexuality, indeed our entire futures. It does not help us modify our perceptions that the big three monotheistic religions locate sin in women’s disobedience and have oppressive descriptions and prohibitions of us. ”

    That’s kind of an over-simplification, at least to me, because I see a big gap between sexuality and reproduction, – see your point above; so does nature – but when it comes to the Big Three, they don’t see that separtion, so your point holds overall. By the way, I think blaming Eve is the specialty of Christianity, but again this is a distinction without a difference, because all eastern Mediterranean religions and cultures, not just the Big Three, demonize women to some extent or other. Pagan Greek culture painted women irrational and practically sub-human.

    “I also think that personhood can not be an off-or-on measure but exists, like so many things, on a continuum.”

    I like this, and I can’t say quite why. I can see how it might be troubling, but it still feels reasonable.

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  31. Matoko, perhaps you are privy to information I am not, but I am not aware that ectogenesis is quite so nigh. Presumably the same societal elements that oppose abortion and stem cell research will voice a similar opposition.

    8 to 10 is a conservative estimate. We might be able to do human ectogenesis right now, but we cannot legally experiment on human embryos for testing. Goat embryos were successfully gestated to full term 4 years ago.
    Google it.
    Why would anyone oppose human ectogenesis? It saves fetuses, not destroys them. It will be a great boon for women with uterine carry problems, and saving non-thriving fetuses. Human ectogenisis should eliminate low birthweight babies in North America at least.

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  32. We’ve always been one. Someone else’s ox is getting gored, that’s all.

    No, Jaybird. The right has always wanted to be the Domestic Morals Police and the Superawesome World Police. That is why we have incessantly meddled in MENA and SA. That is why we are are in Iraq.

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  33. “The right has always wanted to be the Domestic Morals Police and the Superawesome World Police.”

    The Progressives were behind Prohibition, my man. WWI as well (and thus, by extension, WWII). We could discuss this at Denny’s over coffee and a cigarette, except it’s illegal to smoke anywhere except Vegas anymore (and even that is going away). The PMRC was hardly a right-wing operation in its practice. That’s just stuff off the top of my head.

    And, if I recall correctly, you’re one of the folks who wants to censor the airwaves.

    The problem is the whole “Domestic Morals Police/Superawesome World Police” thing and not the fact that “the right” is doing it. (Kudos on the Domestic Morals Police/Superawesome World Police thing, though. I may use that in the future.)

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  34. Oh gee-whiz, Jaybird.
    I wonder which side Gus is thinking will try to oppose human ectogenesis.

    I SAID Beck can say what he likes, but I don’t think it cost-viable for your cause, like BillO’s 28 episodes of Tiller attacks inspiring Roeder.
    I think BillO and Scott Roeder have badly damaged the prolife brand.
    It will be interesting to see the next round of polling.

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  35. “your cause”

    I support full-rights for abortion up to and including the moment of crowning because I believe in, among other things, a government that doesn’t have the power to interfere with such choices that individuals may want to make that fall quite plainly under a “Right To Privacy”. I’m pretty sure that you would disagree with the size of the category that I would consider “Private”, now that I think about it.

    But, maybe, a government powerful enough to interfere but always interferes correctly because, this time, the right people are making the decisions for everybody else will work out this time.

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  36. The rights of the already-born trump the rights of the unborn.

    Yes, but why?

    Because the unborn only exist inside the body of the already born. (except for ecto-embryos). The rights of the woman carrying a fetus are considered inherently greater than that of the fetus, since the fetus lives inside her body, as a part of her, and people are considered to have the right to control what goes on inside their own body.

    Imagine how it would be if I proposed laws regulating what you could do with your sperm? That, say, you had no right to masturbate, or engage in non-reproductive sex, but only to use your sperm to impregnate a fertile female, because your sperm have the right to impregnate a woman rather than be wasted for your own personal pleasure. Would you think that your own rights are superior to the rights of the sperm who live in your testes?

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  37. “Would you think that your own rights are superior to the rights of the sperm who live in your testes?”

    Sperm are not immunologically distinct beings, fetuses are. immunological distinctness is the biological standard for being and independent organism. A pregnant female (whatever the species as long as it’s viviparous) is more analogous to conjoint twins. This is only a problem when the female is human; then we get all conflicted about rights and whose rights and all.

    Let’s take the naturalistic approach. SayI am the woman’s mate and in this case actually the fetus’ father. She wants to abort and I want the child. (For the purpose of argument let’s say it’s a simple disagreement; in actual practice I would always give in and agree to an abortion for a number of reasons, chief among them it’s pretty pointless to ry to raise a child with someone who doesn’t want him or her.) So OK.

    Question: Whose rights do I actually care about (and in Confucian terms, to whom do I have the greater duty) – my own flesh and blood, or someone else’s daughter?

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  38. Jim, you’re missing the point. You can try to define these things as you wish, to design the outcome you like. But that’s evading the issue at hand. The fact is, sperm and fetuses both live inside the body. If my religion or just my personal view claimed that sperm have rights of their own, that they are human organisms with distinct DNA and distinct drives to live and grow into fully human beings, and that this amounts to a right to life on their part that should be respected by the law, and the law said fine about that first part, just where should the law come down on this issue, not going into the definitional nomenclature? Whose rights are to be recognized, those of the sperm or the man who has sperm in his body? I think the answer is obvious, even if sperm fit all of your definitional notions of immunological identity and so forth.

    As for the dispute of father and mother, again, that fetus is inside the woman, not the man. The question is whether the woman will carry the child in her body or not. The man doesn’t have a right to insist that she do that. If she does, he has the parental rights, because the fetus is now a child outside the woman’s body. Before then, he can be as persuasive as he wants to be, but he can’t force her to carry a child to birth. That’s not within his rights. If men want that kind of right, they will have to develop exogenesis to the point where a woman’s womb is not necessary for procreation. Coming soon to a dystopian future near you.

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  39. “If my religion or just my personal view claimed that sperm have rights of their own, that they are human organisms with distinct DNA a…..”

    You are the one who is defining things as you wish to obtain the result you want ; whether something has distinct DNA or not is an matter of empirical observation, not religious belief. you are making a speciouos analogy of a fetus to sperm,. You might as well compare a fetus to any other mass of cells. i might as well compare a living child to a mass of cells, or to a piece of live stock that the family can sell at need – there is no real biological difference beyond viability, and an eight-month fetus is pretty viable. You may posit some difference between an eight-month fetus and a two-month infant, but that is a social, cultural or legal diffenrence, not biological and empiricaly verifiable. That was the point of my illustration above. For starters.

    “The question is whether the woman will carry the child in her body or not.”

    That’s the question that interests you, but that is not “the” question, that is not the question I stated. Try to stay on topic – the question was which person’s rights matter or should matter more to the father. That was my question.

    “The man doesn’t have a right to insist that she do that. ”

    This is a statement of opinion, not of fact. Rights are really never a matter of fact; they are social conventions or features of legal systems. That is not what we are discussing here.

    “Before then, he can be as persuasive as he wants to be, but he can’t force her to carry a child to birth.”

    We go back to the issue of individual rights, which obviously rest on the reality of the individual in the first place. Considering how dependent a pregnant woman is, typically on her husband, what degree of compulsion do you say she is entitled to apply to him? Would you say she has a right to carry the child to term if she wants and to force him to assume all legal responsibilities to raise that child for considerably longer than she will be pregnant with him or her? If so, how so?

    And if so, what enforcement mechanism do you posit? How is going to prevent him from triggering a miscarriage, anything she can do on her own?

    You are going to say that it is her body – well, dandy. That’s hardly going to stop a two-by-four across the belly. So why should anyone respect the rights of someone who doesn’t respect his rights?

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  40. Jim: what if the husband, that wanted a child that would be aborted otherwise, be allowed to have the fetus by as non invasive a surgical procedure as possible and raise it as he sees fit with no rights being maintained by the woman?

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  41. Jim,

    I used the sperm rights analogy as a thought experiment, illustrating a more extreme example of how absurd it is to talk about the “rights” of things that live inside our body. I don’t mean to compare a fetus to a sperm, although one must admit that without sperm, the fetus would not exist. If one claims the fetus has rights, however, why not admit that the sperm should have some rights also, if maybe of a lesser order? In some cultures, such as the old testament and much of Christianity, masturbation is considered a sin precisely because the sperm is “spilled”, rather than put in a vagina where it can produce a child. Same with prohibitions against oral and anal sex and constraception. Any spilling of sperm not inside a vagina for purposes of reproduction is sin, and punishable. I’m just using that as an example of a potential legal system, and transposing our current logic of “rights” to it. I think it makes a valid point, but not a literal one.

    You are the one who is defining things as you wish to obtain the result you want

    I am defining the thought experiment for rhetorical purposes. The basic idea is to show how obvious it is to us that living things inside our body do not have rights that supercede our own. Once outside our body, that changes dramatically. It’s why personhood historically has always only been attributed to those who are born. It’s why we celebrate birthdays rather than conception days. You can say that’s all wrong, and we should change how we see these things, but I think you need much better reasons than you’ve put forward, and the argument about “rights” will always favor the woman rather than the fetus. Check our Larison on that issue if you think that’s a liberal bias.

    whether something has distinct DNA or not is an matter of empirical observation, not religious belief. you are making a speciouos analogy of a fetus to sperm,.

    In the first place, where did the fetus get its DNA? Half came from the sperm, which means that the sperm is necessary for the fetus’ existence. If the sperm has no right to an egg, the fetus has no right to even exist. And clearly, if sperm never make it to an egg, no fetus will exist. So the fetus’ DNA is not its own, it’s taken from the sperm, and the egg. It’s not the fetus’ invention or something original to the fetus. The fetus is dependent on the sperm, but you say we should give all rights to the fetus, and none to the sperm? By your own logic, that makes no sense. My logic of rights, however, has nothing to do with our DNA or its origins, but has to do with our functional capacity as independent beings who exist outside the bodies of our mothers. There’s nothing written in any legal or moral literature about human rights being somehow derived from our DNA or immunological identity. So its silly to argue this way. I do so for rhetorical reasons, to demonstrate how silly it is.

    “The question is whether the woman will carry the child in her body or not.”

    That’s the question that interests you, but that is not “the” question, that is not the question I stated. Try to stay on topic – the question was which person’s rights matter or should matter more to the father. That was my question.

    If the fetus were inside the father, that would matter the most. But the question of what matters most to the father isn’t relevant, since the fetus doesn’t live inside his body. The father might not care about the mother at all, or what she wants. She might hate him. He might have raped her. Or, she might love him, and might be persuaded to have the child out of love for him. If the man loves the mother, I’d say he ought to care most what the mother wants, and if he wants her to have the child, he’s got to convince her that he loves her so much he’ll be around to make sure everything turns out right. But he can’t treat her as his property, and tell her how she must live and procreate. Not legally at any rate. But that’s one of the major reasons behind the feminist movement and the legalization of abortion – the claiming by women of the right to do with their bodies what they want, and not to be owned by a man as chattel or breeding stock.

    “The man doesn’t have a right to insist that she do that. ”

    This is a statement of opinion, not of fact. Rights are really never a matter of fact; they are social conventions or features of legal systems. That is not what we are discussing here.

    It’s both my opinion about our social conventions and its the law. Rights only exist as matters of social construct and law. On what basis are you presuming them to exist otherwise?

    “Before then, he can be as persuasive as he wants to be, but he can’t force her to carry a child to birth.”

    Considering how dependent a pregnant woman is, typically on her husband, what degree of compulsion do you say she is entitled to apply to him?

    What century are you living in? A whole lot of women give birth out of wedlock these days, and are not dependent on their children’s fathers for their livelihood. She can’t compel him to do anything. But the state can compel him to pay child support after the baby is born. Those are the risks men take sticking their wee-wees into a woman’s woo-woo.

    Would you say she has a right to carry the child to term if she wants and to force him to assume all legal responsibilities to raise that child for considerably longer than she will be pregnant with him or her? If so, how so?

    It’s not a right, it’s just the law. The law covering child support is not based on the woman’s rights, but on the government’s addressing the pressing social problem of deadbeat dads. It sometimes sucks, but the only other solution – forcing the woman to have an abortion – sucks even worse.

    And if so, what enforcement mechanism do you posit? How is going to prevent him from triggering a miscarriage, anything she can do on her own?

    Are you serious? There are laws against assault and battery and poisoning that cover this pretty well.

    You are going to say that it is her body – well, dandy. That’s hardly going to stop a two-by-four across the belly. So why should anyone respect the rights of someone who doesn’t respect his rights?

    You have an interesting imagination. Let me introduce you to your new cellmates.

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  42. Call me a pro-choice extremist, but in the “personhood” debate I see one undoubted person walking around, who will be subject to other people’s plans that will affect her life and health, and the “unborn” or “preborn” whose personhood is (to put it mildly) hotly debated and may or may not be speculative. I guess I hesitate to tell the undoubted person that she needs to risk her life, health, and ability to control her own body because we (well, some of us) feel really really strongly that the fetus is a person. That seems like a very significant and very concrete price for a person to pay because the rest of us have speculative and unprovable moral beliefs about something that’s happening in her body. Just saying.

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