Roe Your Own Boat


Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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76 Responses

  1. Avatar Gaelen says:

    Interesting post, though I think you may need to do more in the way of differentiation between abortion and other government actions perceived to be immoral. It seems that your argument rests on the lack of political representation for those in the womb, which, while true, does not seem to account for the fact that the vast number of those who die at the hands of the US military aren’t necessarily getting their voices heard either.

    “We ridicule those who claim that it is okay to be gay, just don’t act gay or have romantic relationships with people of the same sex. Nonetheless, we hold national hypocrisy in our minds when it comes to abortion funding. It is okay to be Pro Life, just do not try to actually be Pro Life.”

    I think being gay is not the best analogy to a policy, even one founded on strong moral beliefs, which seeks to regulate or prohibit others behavior. And even if we want to compare moral beliefs to biological fact, Pro Life individuals can still live their beliefs through personal action. Growing up a Quaker, it seems a much more apt analogy is to those pacifists who believe that all violence is immoral, but who, rightly in my opinion, must still fund our vast warmaking machine.Report

    • Thanks for the comment, Gaelen. You make good points, and ones I probably can’t argue against much (though I think there is a valid argument that not paying for something doesn’t constitute regulation or prohibition of others behaviour).

      These Opposite Day posts are tough.Report

      • Avatar Gaelen says:

        ” I think there is a valid argument that not paying for something doesn’t constitute regulation or prohibition of others behaviour”

        Very true. I got a little sloppy, lumping the desire not to pay for the procedure in with some Pro Lifers desired social policy, and the two are certainly separate positions. Also, I missed the bottom portion of the post, where you mention this is part of the “opposite day” series, and assumed, because there was nothing at the top of the post, that this was you actual opinion. So, a sizable fail on my part.

        But, when your reader can’t tell that your arguing the other side, it speaks to the quality of the post.Report

      • Avatar GordonHide says:

        By that sort of argument should anti-abortion types have to pay for the upkeep of unwanted children who would otherwise have been aborted while the pro-abortion types avoid this tax?

        When I think of all the pacifists who have contributed to the defence budget without a single complaint it makes me suspicious that the anti-abortion lobby is really about the exercise of power.

        I note that the OP talks about the suffering of the foetus. As the foetus feels no pain this is just self seeking sentimentality. They should show a bit more compassion for women and unwanted children, not to mention pay the taxes needed to support them.Report

  2. Avatar pete mack says:

    Fascinating post, and it really shows up the issues in the US. Here the issue isn’t whether the govt should ever pay for abortion, even in the case of rape or medical necessity (it doesn’t), but whether it should be allowed at all. I am happy to cede your argument to funding, if we can establish the basic right to do as you please with your own pregnancy. In fact, Roe has not to do with funding, and everything to do with availability and legality, so your headline is a bit besides the pointReport

    • Hi Pete,

      You’re right that Roe doesn’t have much to do with this (though maybe a bit, since it seems to have made abortion a right, and if we make it financially unfeasible for a large segment of the population to exercise that right, then it’s not really much of a right).

      Mainly, I was just going for a catchy title.Report

  3. Avatar DRS says:

    Decades ago, the Supreme Court struck down the Mulroney government’s abortion laws, and since then, every government has pretended that their hands were tied.

    A quibble: they were not the “Mulroney government’s abortion laws”, they were the abortion laws in effect and then struck down by the Supreme Court when the Mulroney government was in power.

    As I remember it, after the SC’s ruling, the Mulroney government looked at re-writing the abortion laws and then-Justice Minister Kim Campbell went looking for a concensus to amend the original act to meet the SC’s criteria. Naturally she started looking first at the Tory caucus, then at the members of parliament as a whole, then at the various organizations with opinions on the subject to see if where a concensus could be found.

    The pro-choicers said we don’t think there needs to be a new law at all and the pro-lifers were all over the map in what they wanted to see, ranging from a more up-to-date version of the same act (which pro-choice Campbell and pro-life Mulroney would have been happy to accept) to passing the same act again in defiance of the SC to abolishing the SC completely to arresting the SC justices for treason for striking down a government act. The last was more of a letters to the editor thing but quite vehement in its passion. The pro-lifers gave no help to the government in rescuing the situation and the government abandoned the effort to replace the legislation. So we have the status quo and on the whole it works.

    (I might just add here that there has been a tradition, sometimes grudging, that members of parliament will vote on matters of private conscience such as capital punishment and abortion as independents and will not be “whipped in” by their party leaders to support official lines. This is how you can get religious social democrats in the NDP to be pro-life and lawyer Tories to be anti-capital punishment. It’s some of the few times when parliament accurately mirrors the divisions in society at large. So Justice Minister Campbell’s desire to cobble together a nonpartisan concensus was not loopy wishful thinking.)Report

  4. Avatar DBrown says:

    Since this isn’t following opposite day, neither will I.

    All governments force everyone to pay for mass murder – look at the US and the Iraq war: well over a hundred thousands humans – including children born and unborn – were murdered in mass by our forces; the resulting civil war we ignited between Iraqi’s killed far more. The war was built on lies and was fully created out-of-thin-air for a need by bush that had many reasons but none that required an unprovoked attack by the US by our own laws. Also, vast sums of taxpayer money goes to killing million of people world wide every year: these are based on tobacco farm support by taxpayers.

    Abortion kills no human in the first trimester – both by common law and Biblical law. So, unless the abortion is done past the first trimester, no taxpayer is paying for murder, only a medical procedure.

    These are facts; moral issues also come into play – such as is the Bible wrong and hence, God as well? If so, then at conception, a single cell is a fully formed human and abortion is then murder. Like war and execution, people should be allowed not to pay that portion of their taxes if that is the case but I seriously think religious people do not believe that God lied.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      If I were a pro-lifer who were going to argue for tax-funded abortions and I posted the following, would it be over the top?

      “All governments force everyone to pay for mass murder– look at the US and the Iraq war: well over a hundred thousands humans – including children born and unborn – were murdered in mass by our forces; the resulting civil war we ignited between Iraqi’s killed far more. The war was built on lies and was fully created out-of-thin-air for a need by bush that had many reasons but none that required an unprovoked attack by the US by our own laws. Also, vast sums of taxpayer money goes to killing million of people world wide every year: these are based on tobacco farm support by taxpayers.”Report

      • This seems over the top to me. It also kind of smacks of concern trolling.

        I think you’d have to develop this idea more so as to say why all these forms of government funced mass murder (itself a bit of an over the top phrase) are okay.Report

    • Sorry, I should have been clear.

      I was only breaking from Opposite Day by stating that the conventional wisdom regarding the Supreme Court decision is wrong. It really truly is (Andrew Coyne wrote a wonderful essay on this in, I think, Maclean’s a year or so ago). I also broke from Opposite Day to explain what the proposed legislation was back under Mulroney.

      The post is still an Opposite Day post. My opinion is certainly the opposite of this. (I know I may lose my libertarian cred here, but I support some forms of socialized health care and funding abortion under such schemes.)Report

  5. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    This is prety awesome Jonathon. I didn’t didn’t detect a single moment of parody. To me that represents a damn good understanding of the other side and it means you’ve thought through your own views considerably I think. Well done.

    Obviously I agree with the post in a lot of ways as a straight piece. This part resonated with me the most:

    “The Pro Lifer who does not want to fund another’s elective abortion is not actively causing harm. Not paying for something does not equate to actively harming someone. It is debatable, in fact, if there is even any harm, depending on one’s opinion of an unwanted pregnancy. No doubt, to the person who does not want to be pregnant, continuing such a pregnancy is a burden, and, arguably, a form of harm**. But, again, with our rule that we must fund abortions, we are taking the view of one side of the abortion debate as fact, and building policy from there. “Report

    • Thanks, Mike. I generally try not to write about abortion too much. I’m pretty squishy on it (which probably helps in a post like this) and I find a lot of the discussion turns into yelling, which I despise (which also probably helps for this post). I’m glad I was able to pull off an Opposite Day post. I was worried that I would write something that would seem kind of charicature-ish.Report

  6. 1) This was a very well-written piece.

    2) I was mulling writing my own abortion-related “Opposite Day” post. Then I decided against it, out of fear that I would have all manner of troublesome comments to deal with. But because you have written such a good piece in a related vein, I can plausibly claim that I wasn’t being craven, but merely wanted to write something that overlapped!Report

  7. Avatar Mike says:

    DBrown raises an interesting point regarding a Pro-Lifer’s tax dollars funding abortions. As a Roman Catholic, I believe life=conception until natural death. In theory using the health care portion of my tax dollar (a huge chunk) To interfere in anyway with human life, strips me in some part of my religous freedom. This would apply to abortions and assisted suicide as far as I can tell. My question is, would it be advisable to withold that portion of my tax payment to CRA this spring? What line is it on the tax return form? Do you have the number of a good tax lawyer? Sorry that was three questions….Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      As a Roman Catholic, I believe life=conception until natural death.

      Actually, no you don’t.

      As a Roman Catholic, your history is considerably more muddled.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        Of course I didn’t suggest that I was a good Catholic or a student of church history. However I will maintain that is what I have been taught and that is what I CHOOSE to believe. For a minute there I thought you must be my wife telling me what I think and believe. Besides what’s that have to do with my question on taxation?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          M.A.’s pretty sure he’s got a better handle on everyone else’s beliefs than they do. I’m guessing he got his ass kicked a lot as a kid.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            He does have a lot of evidence on his side of things, I have to admit. It’s a shame it always comes back to accusations of intentions and ignorance.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              The problem is he’s not content to leave it at some Xs say “…” As soon as he finds some X who says “…” He leaps immediately to “(implied “all”) Xs say ‘…'” (fallacy of composition), or “you are an X, therefore you say ‘…'”

              If he had simply pointed out that the history of Catholic thought was more complex than presented by Mike, that would have been perfectly cool. But to tell Mike that he doesn’t actually believe that, or if he believes it he doesn’t actually do so as a Roman Catholic, that’s where he blows it.

              I do like his new gravatar, though. Can’t criticize that, ’cause it’s just plain cool.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

            Hey James and M.A.,

            James and I butt heads a lot, so I can see why M.A. goes nuclear in his attacks. I am overly aggressive too, a lot. .

            But M.A., you need to realize that there are smart and fair people who will listen and maybe agree if you argue well enough here. I mean, we all have our biases, but this isn’t Redstate or Kos (or even Balloon Juice) where there is a shouting insult battle. This is a forum for discussion and debate. And the super hostile, often ad hominem approach you take, is neither necessary nor effective here.

            James really does have academic blood in him. He will argue fairly, and admit his errors, if you discuss things with him just right. And he will be charitable, too. If you really are an academic, that attitude is beaten in to you. It’s a religion.

            Of course, even if you out argue someone, they might dissemble and twist their way out of the debate (and some here will always do that),but this place seems to be set up on the hope that that won’t happen every time there is a debate (even though it will happen to all of us, as we are human, some of the time).

            So I beg you, as a fellow liberal, to treat many of the people you disagree with here (and you’ll get a sense of who is worth writing with and who isn’t) to try to discuss things less in an adversarial way and more in a collaborative way.

            Or go somewhere where the battling is more appropriate.

            Just a request. Feel free to ignore it. You seem like a bright guy and I agree with a fair bit of what you post and hope you find a way to be part of a constructive conversation.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

              I should also point out Tim F. as a fair disputant, and Likko and Kuznicki, amd even Blaise P. who can piss me off like nobody’s business, but is crazy well-read and has quirky, interesting takes.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              James really does have academic blood in him

              That was just a transfusion after that horrible Easter egg in the snowblower incident. I’m sure it’s all gone by now.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

                Yeah, that was a weird metaphor.

                Somehow I do think that -as irritating as they can be- even the academics that I think are crazy aren’t as immune to reasoned arguments as the public in general. The training just makes it harder (not impossible, we’re all human) to dismiss a good argument.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              I gave up on assuming the best of most of the writers around here when the response to one of them rewriting a “quote” of something I had said, inserting words to make it sound anti-semitic, seemed to amount to a collective shrug.

              At present it appears the post that entire discussion was attached to is deleted, which is why I haven’t been able to find it to reference. Or at the very least, that link is now 404’ing.

              So forgive me if I’m not as charitable as some around here. I’m tired of watching the goalposts be moved constantly, and in context of where I exist and the culture around me, I’m just downright tired with a lot of the strawmen arguments and outright distortions if not lies that plague the “argumentation” of the right wing and/or the libertarians and conserva/tarians.

              I’m guessing he got his ass kicked a lot as a kid.

              I’m guessing you were one of the bullies. Most libertarians were.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Dude, I don’t know what post you’re talking about, so if you’re interpreting my lack of comment on it as one of the “collective shrug”ers, count me out.

                But seriously, you’re acting like an asshole. Most libertarians were one of the bullies?Report

              • Avatar Ramblin' Rod says:

                I always figured libertarians for having domineering mothers and, as a consequence, were just really sick and tired of being told what to do all the time. 😉Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                This is a fair cop, actually.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Actually I was the scrawny kid. Didn’t get beat up much because I was always willing to fight back and because fortunately my town/school just wasn’t that bad a place.

                Only once did I ever go after another kid as the aggressor, and 35 years later it still eats at me. I wish like hell I could apologize to him, but he’s disappeared. His own brother doesn’t even know where he is.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dude, all of the libertarians I know were computer dorks who read such things as alt-history for leisure.

                Seriously, do you know any libertarians in real life or is your only interaction with them via text? You come across as someone who doesn’t have a very diverse group of friends.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                the libertarians I knew in real life were the type of people to start a fight with all the frat houses on campus, and then beat up on the drunks.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

      “life=conception until natural death”

      I’m sorry, but can we just stop with this fishing rhetorical device.

      Everyone agrees a fetus is alive; it is a life. But lots of things that are alive don’t have moral worth or even the weakest right to live. That list includes, cancer cells, microbes, and ferns. So the mere fact that a fetus is a life means pretty much fish all, morally speaking.

      What you mean to say is that you believe a fetus, from the moment sperm hits egg (or maybe when sperm hits nucleus, or maybe when genetic recombination happens, or maybe moments after that, or maybe just before the first cell division) the little microbe is a person.

      Persons have moral worth. They have a right or a claim of some sort (maybe a defeasible claim, maybe not) to live.

      You believe that a religious text that is thousands of years old contains some poetic passages that imply (amd you are certain about this) that a fetus is a person at the moment sperm strikes egg (or slightly later). Note: you are using poetic passages in an ancient religious text to determine the answer to an empirical question about personhood. (Imagine, by analogy, someone reading a vaguely worded, poetic passage in the Book of Mormon that convinced her that oak trees are persons.)

      IMO, this is worse than believing that the story of genesis implies with certainty that physicists are wrong about the age of the universe and that it was created in seven days. Indeed, even if God exists and there is truth in the Bible, you ave to be a literalist to think that it gives the correct account of creation. And it doesn’t even explicitly say “abortion is wrong” or “a person exists at the moment of conception.” It only vaguely says things like “I formed you in your mother’s womb.” which is consistent with you (the person) not existing while the material that will eventually become your body (little muti-cellular zygote in the first and second trimester) is growing. Indeed, the vague poetic hard to interpretBible contains evidence that fetuses aren’t persons ot ensoulled.

      So you are using a religious text to determine the answers to empirical questions. You are reading the text literally. But there are no clear literal answers on abortion in the text.

      I am forced to conclude the following. You don’t believe a one celled zygote is a person because of the Bible. You believe it because a priest or pastor pressured you to believe it. And you feel peer pressure from your friends and family to believe it. And believing it gives a good feeling from having an identity as belonging to a group of like-minded believers.

      Sorry to go off like this. The is a legitimate debate about abortion, but the idea that the Bible has any answers or makes any claims on this, and the equivocation about the definition of “life” and “person” is a bridge too far for me. And it should be for any thinking person.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Actually, a literalist will have real struggles with the creation ” story,” because there’s more than one.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        No, It’s not by some priest or pastor forcing it down my throat. It’s what I believe and I feel I’m entitled to that, just as much as a hindu believes that 1200 lbs of walking hamburger is sacred. I refuse to get into right or wrong conversations about any moral issue, I will however defend my right to my own opinion religious or not until the bitter end. I am CERTAINLY glad there are people willing to stand up for mothers that for WHATEVER reason cannot give birth to unborn human beings. Why can’t people understand that I am standing up for the human beings that cannot stand up for themselves.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

          You are entitled to say anything you want, no matter how false or unjustified or nonsensical it may or may not be.

          I get you believe that a one celled fetus is a person. Believe away. I mean to argue that you do not have even a half-ways justification for that belief. If you are willing to admit that your belief is entirely unjustified, even if we take the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, then you need to reflect on why you believe it.

          I suggest that you believe it as a result of peer pressure and a desire to be part of a group. If I am wrong, why do you strongly believe a claim that you cannot justify?

          If your belief is justified, i.e. if you have reasons, please cite them. Please do not say, without citing chapter and verse, that the Bible says that a fetus is a person at the moment of genetic combination or at the moment sperm strikes egg. If the Bible says that, please cite chapter and verse. (My guess is that you will cite some verse that is easily interpretable in many ways and you will have no reason for why you should interpret it the way that you do other than that is how someone told you to interpret it, and that is how you need to interpret it if you want to do things like your peers.)Report

          • Avatar Just Me says:

            Why would you argue that Mike has no justification for what he believes? What would be an acceptable justification in your mind? If I read you right, you think that no person could believe that a one celled fetus is a person unless they have been brainwashed by a peer group. I am not religious, only times I go to church are for funerals or weddings. I think that a one celled fetus is a person. I think that when the egg and sperm get together and do their thing is when a person starts. I personally don’t see why waiting a few weeks while some more cell division occurs matters when looking for a definition on when a person starts. See, here is what I really think, I think that as people we just have to admit that we are killing people when we have abortions. I’m not saying it’s immoral to have an abortion. I think it is a highly personal choice. Nor do I think that all abortions should be banned. But I do think we shouldn’t kid ourselves on whether we are killing another human being when we do have abortions. I’m sure it make us feel better about ourselves to think, well this isn’t really a human, it’s just some cells. That is because we have this habit of renaming things so that when we do something that we feel is wrong, it doesn’t seem as bad. But this is all just my opinion.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              I’m kind of in this camp, too. I’m irreligious and pro-choice. In fact I think there’s so little real difference at any step along the path toward birth, and even until some time after birth, that I can’t find any reliable point at which to say “here is where the line must be drawn, abortion before, but not after.”

              But assuming an infinite God who knows each of us through and through, in whose image we are made, it’s no stretch to say that from the very first instant of conjoining, God sees, or could see, that little lump of matter as a human. In fact given that God is supposedly infinite in time, our past and our future are his present, the Catholic belief in not using contraceptives is logical as well–that egg and that cell that will in join in our future are already joined in God’s present.

              Rather than say that the historical approaches to the question found in the Bible ought to dictate the way today’s Christians believe, I’d be inclined to say that those historical approaches are the ways in which past peoples struggled to avoid facing up to this potential reality. God’s commandments are often too stringent for us to deal with comfortably, so we make all kinds of justifications for why they don’t apply in this situation or that situation, from Jews defining an area they can walk around in without violating the prohibition on Sabbath travel to Christians who justify why they haven’t sold all their possessions and given them to the poor.

              It’s not that I agree with Mike, since I don’t believe in God(s) or souls. But given the beginning assumption of an omniscient and infinite God, I think his position is really pretty reasonable, possibly more reasonable than the possibly-weasely justifications given in the Bible for why it’s ok to abort at this point, but not at that point, which strike me as much more pragmatically based–like Roe v. Wade, than theologically based.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                In fact given that God is supposedly infinite in time, our past and our future are his present, the Catholic belief in not using contraceptives is logical as well–that egg and that cell that will in join in our future are already joined in God’s present.

                Except that, should one use contraceptives, that egg and cell that won’t join are never joined in any present inhabited by a theoretical imaginary friend or imaginary parent in the sky. And no loss is had.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Let’s be clear here about language.

                Something is biologically human if it has a human genetic code.In this sense, anenchephalic fetuses are human (biologically), but since they have no brains. they are no more a person than a plant is a person. And an anencephalic fetus and a lump of flesh have no moral worth, no claim or right whatsoever to live.

                If my working brain is destroyed, then the person I am is gone (or gone to heaven, whatever).

                A lump of my flesh, even after my brain has been destroyed, or an anencephalic fetus is not a person even though it is human. Killing either or letting either die is not in any way even remotely more immoral.

                Similarly, if we discover nonhuman space aliens like Mr. Spock, they might very well be persons, though not human.

                Thus, whether something is human is not morally relevant to any debate, especially the abortion debate. What is relevant is being a person.

                I don’t get your take on the religious view. Isn’t it possible that God believes that the soul should enter the body at 24 weeks and that until then, the lump of human biological matter has no moral worth?

                The business about the fact that God can see the future so thefore he has planned to put soul x into body y could be true, but I don’t see why I should believe it. (The Bible seems to not say directly.) If God can see that I will abort the fetus, why not plan to not put the soul in there in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would it be possible to reach conclusions about whether certain sub-categories of “human” contain more “humanity” than others, using this line of thought?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                No. Being human and having humanity are the same thing and do not come in degrees.

                Regardless of the deabte over fetuses being persons, there are people who believe some persons have less moral worth than others. But that is irrelevant for this debate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So it’s a binary thing and you have knowledge of when the toggle is flipped.

                I’m pleased that we could have cleared that up.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                I never know when you are joking, asking a question, or giving an argument.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Claiming something is binary does not logically require the claim that one can determine when the toggle is flipped. Think Schrodinger’s cat. So in a sense, a fetus at a certain stage of development both human and non-human.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Hell, when they’re walking around, that could be the case.

                Perhaps it’s an individual thing… there are people who were human in the first trimester, and people who aren’t human yet even though they’re in their 40s.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Well, that would be a weird God, imho, but God is God and can do whatever God Goddam well pleases to do.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?
                Or press down his tongue with a cord?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Indeed, why can’t God be as okay with abortion as he might be with contraception or choosing not to reproduce? If God plans (bossily) to add souls regardless of what we do, then all those things are against his plan. but if God plans (helpfully) to only add souls to fetuses we want to bring to term, then all those things don’t violate his plan. The poetic passages in the Bible seem compatible with either interpretation of when and how God plans to have souls enter bodies. So I see no Christian or Jewish justification for abortion being immoral. (The same is true for euthanasia, too. IMO.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I’d just say that sure it’s possible that God implants the soul, or recognizes the fetus as a person, or whatever lingo we want to use, at 24 weeks instead of instantly. But I don’t see that this would be either more or less defensible than God doing it instantly. I’m not saying that “at the instant of conception” is more defensible than other positions, I’m saying no other positions are any more defensible than that one.

                As to your last question, well, it’s just one more in a long string of unanswerable questions about the consequences of an infinite and omniscient God. I’ve never known anybody to have satisfactory answers to those, so I’m not going to pretend I do, but I also don’t think the debate hinges on being able to answer them.

                But those questions are one of the reasons I’m more comfortable now as an irreligious person than I was as a religious person.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Got it.

                Disergard my more recent replies.Report

            • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

              1. I did say there was an interesting and difficult debate to be had over abortion. That debate involves the fact that many (not all) one celled fetuses will eventually, if conditions are right, become persoms. One celled embryos are potential persons or future persons. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to figure out what the moral worth of a future person or a potential person really is. (I’d say nil, but I can admit that the answer might be “some but not as much as an actual person.)

              The other problem the concept of potential persons having moral worth is that even the “as of yet uncombined” sperm and egg could, if conditions are right, turn into a person. And if any action that prevents those conditions from being fulfilled is wrong because it prevents a potential person from becoming actual (in the way abortion is wrong because it prevents a potential person from becoming actual), then contraception or even avoiding having a kid by abstaining from sex is as immoral as an act as murder. Call me crazy, but not having 20 kids is not immoral.

              2. I said it is clear Mike’s position isn’t justified because he seems to believe a one celled creature is a person. Is a cancer cell a person? Is a stem cell?

              It is rather obvious that there is a difference between an actual X and a thing that is disposed to turn into an X. At best, a one celled fetus is disposed to turn into a person; it is not yet a person.

              I think you mean it is obvious that a fetus is a potential person.

              If you believe a is an actual person and not just a potential person, why do you believe a cancer cell isn’t also an actual person?

              3. Whether or not the fetus is a person is a question of fact. Opinions alone here are worthless. Citing them is meaningless. This is not a debate where everyone has their opinion and nobody’s opinion is more true than another.

              Suppose, in my opinion, an oak tree is a person and has a right to live. Well, then my opinion is a.) false and b.) unjustified. You should not believe in a matter of fact without justification. If it is okay to believe in matters of fact about whether a fetus without justification, then (unless there is a reason to think the fetus case is special or somehow distinguished from other matters of fact) it is okay to believe in any matter of fact without justification. And that is absurd.

              My unjustified opinion that poor people are happy being poor isn’t relevant to the debate over equality. It would be absurd for me to say that I am entitled to my opinion that poor people are happy being poor and who are you to say I am wrong if we were arguing over whether income inequality needed to be addressed.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                A cancer cell has no potential to become a human, so it’s not an interesting question.

                A stem cell does, so it’s an interesting question. And obviously one religious folks have been grappling with (if not always dexterously).Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        @Shazbot5: I was raised a Roman Catholic and will always be one. I will not get into the Scientific definition of when life begins because frankly I couldn’t give a shit. A matter of days determines the death sentence of a human being? I couldn’t care less anymore what people think of my opinion on this matter anymore. I wish that women that don’t want their unborn child could somehow magically transfer that unborn child to a couple that desperately want one. That in my opinion would be fair.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

          “Scientific definition of when life ”

          You mean “when a living thing becomes a person.” No one is disputing anything about what is or isn’t alive. The fetus is alive. The question is when it becomes a person.Report

        • Avatar Ramblin' Rod says:

          I wish that women that don’t want their unborn child could somehow magically transfer that unborn child to a couple that desperately want one. That in my opinion would be fair.

          That would be cool. And if it ever happens it won’t be magic, but instead through the efforts of scientists conducting experiments that the Catholic Church will decry as horribly immoral with all sorts of references to Nazi’s and Dr. Mengele.

          Feel free to believe whatever you wish for whatever reasons you like, even none at all. But if you seriously want to convince others to your way of thinking it would be helpful to provide something of an argument beyond a bachelor wearing a dress and a funny hat told you so.

          Now in actuality I’m one of those squishy types about abortion. I’m pro-choice for the first trimester, pro-life for the last, and I have no idea where to draw the line in the middle. I can’t logically justify that position and I don’t even try. It just feels right to me.

          But where I have to vehemently disagree with the Church is on the subject of contraception and sodomy, even within marriage. It’s one thing to hold that a fertilized egg is a life deserving of protection. It’s quite another to hold that a couple can’t engage in any sexual act that blocks or frustrates conception as well as acts that are intrinsically unable to result in pregnancy.Report

      • Avatar Dale Forguson says:

        To push this moral argument about the worth of potential humans a little farther; I’ve known many men who see little worth in children calling them human larvae. I’ve also known many women who see little worth in adults but who adore shildren. I think it may have been Jonathon Swift who once said “I like children if they are properly prepared” I’m not aruging that this is all a bit tongue in cheek but my question is. How is “worth” determined? and who’s values will be applied? It seems a slippery slope to me.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      As a Roman Catholic, I believe life=conception until natural death.

      Where being burned at the stake for heresy counts as a natural death?Report

  8. Avatar Dale Forguson says:

    I’m old enough to remember the original Roe vs. Wade decision in the US and the discussion that hinged on the phrase “viable outside of the womb”. I’m also “squishy” on this issue and wish I had the time to devote to forming a defensible opinion about it. I suppose one of my concerns has to do with how medicine has evolved since then. How astonishingly early premature births have survived through then unimagined medical advances. What would have then been considered un-viable now is. So the concept of when life begins keeps getting ratcheted back. definitions keep getting re-defined or so it seems. That makes me question the whole thought process. I’m not expressing a position, just discomfort. I’m sort of off topic just a bit but I’m hoping others will weigh in with some thought provoking comments.Report

  9. Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    Very nice piece, and (mostly) great discussion. (I would never tell anyone that their article of faith is poorly derived, even if I don’t agree with it. Mike may have come by his belief by having the Flying Spaghetti Monster whisper in his ear — it doesn’t make it any more or less true for HIM.)

    I was thinking about writing a piece based on how we are all created in God’s image, and therefore, to have a piece of God transforms the crimes of rape and incest into something miraculous, but lacked time and resources.Report