Does Opposition to Abortion Demand Certainty That the Fetus Is a Person?


Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a inactive to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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139 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Sheesh! I just post on comment good faith in the threads, and you and Elias test it out immediately with TWO abortion posts???!!!Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      This one may be too obscure to generate much controversy, but we shall see.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        AS long as I’m here, though, wouldn’t the answer to the titular question be no? I know that many Catholics (is it actually dogma?) that believe that male self pleasure is a sin because of all the seed that are taken out of the pinewood derby, so to speak. I’m sure they don’t see those critters as people; couldn’t it therefore be a sin even if we decided that a zygote wasn’t yet a person?Report

        • If I understand correctly (I skimmed one of the encyclicals Kyle referred to me on the subject) the official position on no-procreative sex revolves not around denying the possible creation of a person before inception, but rather more around whether such sex is part of one’s natural teleology (or, I guess, the “special purpose” of Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”….sorry, I couldn’t resist).

          I’m probably bungling this up (and my Steve Martin joke didn’t help), but that’s how I understand the Church’s position.Report

        • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

          No, the Catholic Church does not consider sperm or unfertilized egg to be persons, but its opposition to masturbation (definitive, but not dogmatic) has nothing to do with loss of life (which happens all the time without intentional stimulation), but rather what it sees as a misapplication and misuse of the organs outside their normative purpose. The Catholic opposition to abortion pertains to the deliberate act of taking of a unique and individual human life.Report

          • What’s the difference between “definitive” and “dogmatic”? Is it that “definitive” means the Church has spoken clearly and unequivocally, but that its decisions is not based on first principles? Also, is the distinction important? Does a definitive statement against masturbation mean that it is an intrinsic wrong, or just likely to be an intrinsic wrong (or something else)?Report

            • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

              Dogmatic is a subset of definitive teaching: it refers very specifically to core divinely revealed truths. They are not than many dogmas, but there is much definitive teaching. Catholics are supposed to assent to both, but dogmas have a bit more weight. To deny a dogma is really to cease to practice the Catholic faith. It wouldn’t make much sense to say that someone who denies the Incarnation is Catholic, but almost no one thinks twice about acknowledging the membership of Catholics who use contraception and see no moral problem with it.

              An intrinsic evil is something that is wrong in itself, regardless of intention or circumstance. Actions nothing can justify.Report

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


    It does seem to be a more comfortable framework for the people that oppose abortion, though.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    There is another ethical framework to consider: that of the right of humans to crowd out and use up resources. We share this planet with others, our ability to exist depends on other life forms. Future generations of humans and of others depend our restraining ourselves now.

    So the hospitality due this zygote or fetus must, in the ethical framework I value, also be weighed against those future acts of hospitality, including the earth’s flora and fauna in making our lives possible.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I think this is a fruitful line of discussion as well.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I should note that it extends far beyond abortion.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Certainly. My first thought when I read your comment was that this is relevant to most of the discussions we have here, particularly those related to markets, advances in material well being (usually associated here with markets), and the associated increases in “freedom.” As an anti-materialist, it’s right up my ally.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Really? Because the first place I went to was to thoughts of “if we’re being honest, who shouldn’t have children?”

        While I’m sure that Zic wouldn’t want the conversation to head in that direction, I see it turning that way if we start discussing such things as policy with regards to the topic of future generations and responsible husbandry of the resources we have available.

        Am I wrong to see it going that way?Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          No. It definitely has that potential.

          But. Banning is the same road.

          My choice would be that if you don’t want, you shouldn’t be forced to bear a child. And if you do want, you shouldn’t be stopped from bearing a child.

          And I understand that many people who want a child cannot bear one. But there are many things I’d like to do that I cannot do because of my physical limitations; forcing another woman to bear a child for those who cannot doesn’t sit well with me.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Hey, once again, I fully support the right to abortion up to and including the moment of crowning for reasons as trivial as “we were hoping for a boy”.

            I’m not even suggesting anything like a ban.

            The set of assumptions that lead me to that conclusion, however, do not include such things as efficient and ethical use of resources.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              I rather hope that voluntary responsibility now might avoid the potential for policy later; we’re projected to go from 7 to 9 billion rather fast. And as I said, it’s not just about the rights of humans; I think only considering human rights incredibly self-centered and short-sighted way of looking things.

              I’d like there to be room for songbirds; perhaps even Jaybirds, seven generations from now.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Don’t other species act similarly self-centered? Or, perhaps more precisely, are other species capable of acting in a non-self-centered manner?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Not that I know of; though dolphins and wolves have been rumored to save people.

                But they don’t write poetry or blogs, either. They don’t build cathedrals.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                That is sort of my point. Shouldn’t we value the species that can write poetry or build cathedrals or not eat its young than those that don’t?Report

              • Avatar mark boggs says:

                Sure, but this assumes that quantity is also quality. What if we so valued the human species we ended up with 25 billion of us on this orb? How much fun would that be?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Even if that’s your measure, Kazzy, I believe my arguments still hold. For other species may well hold the key to the survival of the poets and cathedral builders. While it’s easier to empathize with the larger animals, the elephants and whales and even the lowly toads, it’s actually the plant and microbe populations that most concern me. Plants, for they are our pharmacopeia and food. And the microbes because we so poorly understand their importance. But one example might be the effects of ocean acidification on phytoplankton; and the potential to disrupt not only food chains by climate cycles. So in caring for the poets, we need to care for the community the poets inhabit. We don’t even know all our neighbors yet.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                Mark, from my perspective it matters most whether we can nourish and clean everybody. Of so, then the more the merrier. Of catch is that the more fed and healthy and population is, the less it reproduces generally.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                So, in a nutshell, you advocate seeking and maintaining a long-term sustainable balance, yes? But is that because of the interests of non-humans or precisely because of the interests of humans?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Kazzy, To me, the question, < But is that because of the interests of non-humans or precisely because of the interests of humans? is rooted in a view that humans are somehow separate from everything else, and not part of it. I know this is a very common view; that there are a lot of people out there who want to save the environment from humans by keeping them out of it. But to me, this doesn’t make a lot of sense; for humans are of this earth. We evolved here, part of, not separate from. How we survive and thrive depends on the community we live in; upon the smallest living organisms within that community. You depend on that community; on the balance of flora and fauna living in your own gut, and when they’re threatened, you get a GI problem. If all humans die off today, phytoplankton will survive just fine. But if all phytoplankton die off, humans will not do so well. We are not separate, and valuing the whole system is part of valuing humans.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “we’re projected to go from 7 to 9 billion rather fast.”

                Slower than it took us to get from 5 to 7 though. The current low estimate of the UN population projection doesn’t even break 8.5 billion. (the middle levels of at 10 billion by the end of the century). In any case, all estimates point to a conclusion that we’re probably past an inflection point.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Have you ever criticized liberals for claiming success when they’ve slowed the rate of growth of a budget?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                A budget is something governments have full control and responsibility for.

                That there are too many brown people in the world is not something I want governments to take action on, and furthermore, is not even a problem.

                Like out of control crime in the 80’s & 90’s, ‘overpopulation’ is a problem that has gone away due to actions already taken.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                or actions that continue to occur, like raising the living standards and political & personal empowerment of women.Report

              • Avatar Pyre says:

                There are three lines of thought on that.


                Regardless, if you do believe in the high growth line, then voluntary responsibility is an awful idea. The idea that most people have of voluntary responsibility, especially with something as abstract as world population growth, is ” *Someone else* should concern themselves with that.”Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                We may go from 7 to 9 quickly, but the same projections say we’ll never reach 10, we’re in for a levelling-off, and then maybe even a decline, not a massive explosion.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            forcing == bad.
            payment without forcing == better.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I don’t think you are wrong. But that is only if you think in terms of policy.

          I don’t think Zic was necessarily advocating policy, only an ethical framework. Or, perhaps more accurately, a piece of an ethical framework. While I think that policies should be derived from ethics, I don’t think every ethical framework necessitates a policy.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            So if all we’re talking about is changing the culture and cultural assumptions about responsible child creation and incorporation of “Proper Stewardship” into the general public consciousness, I suppose I’m not opposed to that… I’d be interested in seeing how that sort of thing is propogated throughout the society, though.

            I’d also be interested in seeing which sub-cultures prove resistant to the meme.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              I’d also be interested in seeing which sub-cultures prove resistant to the meme.

              I’ll open book on that one.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the ethical framework that zic proposed (I haven’t thought enough about it to have a firm feeling), so I was speaking more broadly to the relationship between ethics and policy (two topics I’ll totally cop to being a noob about).

              But, as I’m sure you need no reminder, both sides are more than happy to exploit an ethical framework to promote their agenda, with agenda serving as a quasi-proxy for power grab.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Yeah, I think you are. That’s one direction to take it, but there are others. For example: we should make it so that only people who want to have children have to have them. Anyone who doesn’t want to have children shouldn’t have to, even if they (if they happen to be of the female persuasion) get pregnant.

          I would bet a lot of money that one of the best ways to fight overpopulation is to continue to make women equal participants in the social, economic, and political spheres, and to continue to challenge existing conceptions of gender roles so that women are more likely to take advantage of that equality. And one of the best ways to do both of those things is to continue to promote reproductive freedom.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Or what zic and Kazzy said.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            This also has a lot to do with the fact that teen pregnancy is far more common in societies that teach women’s place as second-class citizens, to be “fulfilled” by men or else serve as property of the husband. Early marriage, or even early marriage to much older men involving girls being sold into marriage for payment.

            Get women to be educated and equal partners, and they probably want to make decisions about procreation on equal levels. This means some of them will decide against childbearing, or decide on childbearing later than earlier, in favor of a career.

            Teen pregnancy (especially teen pregnancy carried to term) carries a price for girls that follows their whole lives. And it’s just as true over in Africa as it is in the USA.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I would bet a lot of money that one of the best ways to fight overpopulation is to continue to make women equal participants in the social, economic, and political spheres, and to continue to challenge existing conceptions of gender roles so that women are more likely to take advantage of that equality. And one of the best ways to do both of those things is to continue to promote reproductive freedom.

            I fully and totally agree with this. Education, more education, and entry into the job markets will do wonders.

            I suspect that it’s as likely to get people to want a first-world standard of living as not, however.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              We can then begin to talk about different conceptions of “first world standards of living.” For example, the good life doesn’t require an iPod, an iPad, three flat screen TVs, a couple gaming systems, a gas-guzzling SUV, and a house that would fit 20 more people than currently live in it (but they manage to keep half of the lines on anyway).Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Also, if we’re going to start eliminating potential directions of inquiry because they may lead to negative consequences, we’re going to have to throw out most of Western culture, including the sacred political and philosophical cows of everyone here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would that involve asking stuff like “mightn’t that also lead someplace we don’t want to go?” or would it involve stuff like pointing out that it’s unpleasant to bring up questions like “mightn’t that also lead someplace we don’t want to go?”Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I don’t like where you are going with this.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m not worried about you bringing the question up. I didn’t object to it, I just said that it’s not the only direction it could go. My point in noting that pretty much anything could go bad is that, while we can, and perhaps should ask such questions, it’s not really an argument against a position, just an argument for approaching the position cautiously.Report

            • Avatar KatherineMW says:

              A first-world standard of living is really the best way to deal with population issue. In every part of the world (following the invention of reliable birth control), as living standards rise and infant mortality falls, people choose to have fewer children. North America saw a fall from a 3.5 to 1.7 fertility rate over 1960-75; East Asia a fall from 5 to 3 over the 1970s; the Middle East & North Africa a fall from 6 to ~2.7 from 1980-2010; and Latin America a fall from 6 to 2.25 from 1960-2010. Sub-Saharan Africa, with an average fertility rate of around 5, is the only place with a rate over 3; not coincidentally, it’s also by far the poorest area of the world, with the highest infant mortality rates.

              Neither restrictions on childbearing nor promotion of abortion are necessary, moral, or useful ways to deal with the issue, given that we know that increased living standards and health are effective on their own.

              If you want to address population growth, address poverty.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller says:

                Abortion is key to ensuring that women can participate equally in all spheres of life, though. It’s a critical part of a culture that respects female autonomy, which is part of what drives increased living standards.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          JB, is it iconceivable that zic’s expression of that view doesn’t lead to eugenics and BigGummintPopulation control? Is it possible that it’s a view that some people hold, maybe even lots of people, and that it leads to a cultural shift without it leading to GovernmentalTyranny? And that maintaining the ability of individuals to express that view, given other currently existing rights, is worth preserving?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Is it inconceivable that it might not lead there? Not at all. It’s certainly possible that it might not.

            It is conceivable that it might?

            The degree to which it might seems to me to be very, very, very much worth talking about especially if we spend some time on the whole “how could we best prevent it from going down that road?” sub-thread.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              You do know that there was a big bother about the social declines that erasers on pencils foster?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Was it about how other people were using too many of them? (Not that we think they shouldn’t use them if they need to use them, of course. That’s not the conversation we’re having.)Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Here’s what I don’t get Jaybird: if it’s possible that a line of reasoning doesn’t lead to X then how can you say that it could lead to X? I mean, a line of reasoning takes one from point A to point X, yes? If it’s possible that it doesn’t take you there, then the line of reasoning doesn’t take you there. A isn’t sufficient for X, and without additional argument it’s not necessary for X.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Because it seems more likely to me that it will lead there than that it won’t lead there despite the best intentions of the people who set things up.

                We’ve all seen a number of arguments in the last few months on a number of topics. With regards to gun control, a common argument on the “pro” side was something to the effect of “do you really *NEED* that thing?” and “you won’t be able to do much of anything even if you had it” and so on. We’ve seen compelling interests pop up out of nowhere with the introduction of policies sold as being us, as a society, meeting our obligations.

                I just see those arguments being used again and again and again until we start asking whether someone who, on paper, doesn’t look like a good candidate for parenthood really needs to have a child given the number of obligations allowing this person to have a child will place on us (and our descendants!) and how a reasonable look at all of the relevant facts would lead a disinterested observer to conclude that our interests exceed the interests of the would-be parent.

                And, of course, you say that there’s no reason that these premises will necessarily lead to that conclusion.

                Sure. They don’t necessarily lead there… but, it seems to me, they can. And the dangers of talking about something that might not happen seem to me to be easily overshadowed by the possibility that it might. (I mean, we’re not even talking about something unthinkable here. We’re talking about something that has been done, in this country, in the last 100 years. Now maybe it’s something as unthinkable as detainment camps or secret assassination lists. But maybe it’s something as thinkable as sterilization of undesirables.)

                So to answer your question: if it’s possible that a line of reasoning does lead to X, shouldn’t you weigh whether it’s more possible than not X before coming to the conclusion that X is something that we don’t have to worry about?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Thanks for this Jaybird. All I can say is I’m not convinced.

                Let’s consider an example. Suppose I say “US citizens don’t need assault weapons for self-defense”. That claim is arguably a factual claim, depending on some contexts and such (let’s suppose this is clear enough). It can be answered with something like a yes or no.

                Now, why would I be inclined to articulate this view? One very good reason is that it’s a rebuttal to a different assertion: that US citizens need assault weapons for self-defense. By making my counter-claim, I’m merely expressing what strikes me as a true statement and that the argument that they are necessary is false.

                Your suggestion is that in advance of expressing my own views on an empirical matter I ought to think about the consequences of my expressing that view. But why? I don’t intend those words to be understood in any other way than the very limited scope they were referring to.

                So, perhaps your worry is that other people will hear my words and think what I’m actually advocating is a complete ban on all firearm possession. It’s possible both sides of the debate could misinterpret me in the exact same way: as advocating for the complete ban of firearms! Yes, that’s true, I suppose. It happened on these very threads. I don’t think it’s my responsibility, however, to refrain from expressing what I think is a true statement because other people will misunderstand it. In fact, I think the only antidote to people misunderstanding it – and sliding down the slippery slope you’re worried about – is to say it emphatically, stressing the limited nature of the claim.

                So, I guess I don’t get the worry.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t think it’s my responsibility, however, to refrain from expressing what I think is a true statement because other people will misunderstand it.

                That depends, I suppose, on what you regard as your proper role in civil society.

                If you don’t particularly regard yourself as a mover, then the possible negative outcomes of your actions are by your own estimation zero.

                On the other hand, if you regard an activist presence as right and necessary, the political reality of your remarks is at least as important as the philosophical grounding of your remarks.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I get that perspective. I’m just saying that it’s not the only perspective. Recall when you and I were talking about leverage as potentially having moral implications sweatshop labor practices? Boht of us, I take it, were making moral arguments and not policy arguments. In fact, we both said that policy arguments would need to meet an independent burden even if the moral arguments were sound.

                That’s where I’m coming from. I can talk about what I think are the moral or empirical or practical effects of a certain state of affairs as part of a description of things, in particular, my description, without it being anything more than that. In fact, I think accurate descriptions are the most important part of any policy debate. What it sounds like Jaybird is arguing is that I ought to refrain from providing my own account of certain situations because it will lead to a policy-oriented slippery slope.

                If I ought not even express my pov on these sometimes sensitive issues because it’s possible that someone will construe it as activism, then why do we even have these discussions to begin with?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think it’s the sheer number of times I’ve seen folks go down the slippery slope despite warnings otherwise.

                Dig: if I gave a couple of paragraphs on the ethics of abortion that came from the perspective of someone who sees abortion as a moral wrong equivalent to breeding puppies for dog fighting… do you think that you’d notice whether I made any specific policy proposals before asking if I thought that women should be forced to carry their rapist’s baby to term? (And if not *YOU*, somebody?)

                I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the immediate assumption on the part of friggin’ everybody would be to ask about policy implications even if they knew that they were talking to a nigh-anarchist libertarian type.Report

        • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

          I’ll add myself to Jaybird here. The “my body, my choice” argument (from a legalistic standpoint, anyway) carries freight with me. The “right to use up resources” One makes me very skittish.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            I think there is room for a discussion of what kind of planet/country we are leaving the young ones. Should we use all our oil resources now or save a field or three for 50 years down the road when they are likely to need it? Are we warming the planet? Should we drain the Ogalala Aquifer? There are plenty of questions about our future that don’t entail hinting around about who can breed and who can’t.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              While I don’t disagree with you, I’m concerned with the justification being what kind of planet/country we are leaving the young ones. Not that we shouldn’t consider that; but that human progeny aren’t all we should consider.

              Whales have every much a right to space on this planet as humans. Elephants, too. We barely comprehend the life cycles that create soil fertility. So save the whales and the microbes, too. And what about toads? And lichens? We don’t really know the importance lichens play in freeing minerals for plant consumption.

              I wonder if we’re too species-centric in our thinking about ethics.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Oh that is fair enough to consider. There is room in the debate for leaving some of the planet for all the other species. That is going to run into quite a bit of push back from some regarding the idea of ownership and property rights and who speaks for the banana slug.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Yes, I expect a lot of push back on private property rights. But ownership of private property does not absolve one of good stewardship. Just as you cannot do whatever you want to your children, so your property; and this is a well settled precedent in law. Zoning, for instance, is not considered a taking.

                On a hot date to a used book store, I stumbled on college-level home economics text from 1912. Very enlightening; particularly the chapter on germs and microbes; made me reconsider Ishmael (a book a quite despised) and the jelly fish story within it.Report

            • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

              Sure. I just don’t like the “by what right?” framing. At least, in the modern day context.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Do you mean by what right someone has to force a woman to bear an unwanted child? To endure nine months of pregnancy, the attendant health issues, the limits on your personal freedom (to drink, smoke, etc.) and the two year recovery after birth? Ask your wife, that’s how long it takes a woman’s body to return to ‘normal.’Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Not to mention the stress of giving birth.

                And the potential for agony of giving the baby you just gave birth to away to strangers if you know you cannot keep and raise this child yourself.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                No, I meant “by what right do we humans keep propagating.” My views on the legality of abortion have been mentioned elsewhere.Report

              • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

                Ed note, the above quotation was my interpretation of Zics initial comment and not her words.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Thanks Will, and I’m sorry I misread. That’ is my question, too. And what rights do other species have? And if the right is ours, do we know how we depend on those other species enough to make wise choices for ourselves? I don’t believe we do.Report

  4. Avatar Chris says:

    Kyle, very nice. This is the sort of “pro-life” position that I can understand, and even as a staunch “pro-choicer,” it causes me to think, in a way that the more strident “pro-life” positions do not. It’s actually the position that at least a couple of the old Positive Liberty folks (at least D.A. Ridgley) held, and we had several discussions about it that were significantly less confrontational than the usual abortion discussion, largely because there is some room for discussion in it.

    My own position is in a way a mirror of this one: not only the ontological but also the ethical status of the fetus is in question, even questionable, but the ontological and ethical status of the pregnant woman is not. If it is not violence to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will, then it is certainly something ethically comparable to violence, and since we know that the pregnant woman is a person with the full ethical status that entails, we should avoid that violence, or violation comparable to violence, if at all possible. This conclusion becomes even clearer to me when I consider the social and economic (and therefore ultimately political) detriments that result for women when their reproductive freedom is compromised, especially in a world in which women are already disadvantaged, socially, economically, and politically, by existing patriarchal structures.

    I lay this position out because I think that, when confronted with each other, your position and mine leave room for dialogue with each other, whereas the more common “pro-life” position leaves little room for dialogue with any other position on abortion.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      P.S. Kyle, post over here more, please.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I second Chris’s request.

        I’d also like to emphasize this: If it is not violence to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will, then it is certainly something ethically comparable to violence, and since we know that the pregnant woman is a person with the full ethical status that entails, we should avoid that violence, or violation comparable to violence, if at all possible. This conclusion becomes even clearer to me when I consider the social and economic (and therefore ultimately political) detriments that result for women when their reproductive freedom is compromised, especially in a world in which women are already disadvantaged, socially, economically, and politically, by existing patriarchal structures.

        And to add that women already experience too much violence at the hands of the men they share their lives with; taking away their control of their reproductive lives is, all to often, simply aggregates the violence and turns it into a bequest to the child. There is not protection, in the end, from random violence. But I believe a mother has the right to choose not to bring a child into a world shaped by family violence; and I don’t believe anyone on the outside has the ability to judge if this particular situation rises to that level.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      Thanks, Chris. To your point, while I wouldn’t call prohibitions of abortion violent, they are obviously coercive in that they would have the force of law and some legal sanction attached. This is an issue that needs to be addressed in its own right, but more so because of the history of patriarchal social structures you mention. Too few of my fellow pro-lifers fail to understand and/or appreciate this history and so they fail or neglect to address it. I don’t think this history means that prohibitions of abortion cannot be justified today, but I would say they need to be justified in context. If you are going to write and enforce laws that limit the behavior of women, then you should a) recognize that fact and b) take measures to compensate for it (e.g., strong social safety nets, prenatal and pediatric care). You should also be able to say exactly what your proposed law would mean for women: e.g., what exact sanctions would be applied so voters know exactly what you’re looking to do.Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        Too often, arguments against the sort of compensations you ask for (safety nets, prenatal/pediatric care, mandated maternity leave – the US is the only nation without it!) rest upon value-judgements and more to the point, arguments that come far too close to “slut shaming” for me to rest much weight upon them… but they are vociferously argued against by conservatives under the notion that single women or teens ought just not be (doing the things that lead to them becoming) pregnant, and married women ought always have a breadwinner husband to take care of the monetary side of raising a child.

        It’s a raw sort of dichotomy. Many of the conservative pro-life groupings are vociferously anti – any sex that isn’t between a husband and wife, and see pregnancy as a necessary “punishment” towards that that should not be “rewarded” by social support programs, but they also are vociferously against women escaping the financial, social, and societal traps that come with teen or single motherhood.

        Maybe we could have a better discussion regarding abortion if there wasn’t such an emphasis placed by one side on punishing women for having sex.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          Edit: the US is the only developed nation without mandated maternity leave. Report

        • Avatar Just Me says:

          I don’t agree that it is about punishing someone for having a baby. I believe it is because many in the United States believe that you work for what you earn. I think it is more along the lines of “why should a business pay for you to have a child, why is it their responsibility?”, or “why should my tax money fund someone else time to spend with their child?”.

          P.S. I can’t help but think of my mother and might I add every other adult I knew while growing up saying “If so and so jumped from a bridge would you too?” That is what I think of every time I see a reference to ” The United States is the only developed nation to (insert your cause here)”.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            I don’t agree that it is about punishing someone for having a baby.

            Not about punishing someone for “having a baby.”

            It’s about punishing people for having sex. Or, sometimes phrased, “making those sluts have to pay for the consequences of their actions.”Report

            • Avatar Just Me says:

              Ok, I will rewrite the paragraph.

              I don’t agree that it is about punishing someone for having sex . I believe it is because many in the United States believe that you work for what you earn. I think it is more along the lines of “why should a business pay for you to have a child, why is it their responsibility?”, or “why should my tax money fund someone else time to spend with their child?”.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Because children going hungry is a bad thing for society as a whole?

                Because we place an importance on having enough children in the next generation to support the previous generation and continue society?

                Because extended, mandated maternity leave and strong protections for mothers correlates directly with less abortions because you don’t have incentive for women to abort in order to protect or save their careers?

                Because historically, “women should be home pregnant taking care of the house” was an attitude that held women down as second-class citizens and we’ve (societally, not the GOP sadly) moved past that sort of neanderthal bullshit?

                I think it is more along the lines of “why should a business pay for you to have a child, why is it their responsibility?”

                Wrong question: why should a business be able to punish you for having a child? Threaten your job for having a child? Threaten your hours or promotion prospects based on having a child?

                or “why should my tax money fund someone else time to spend with their child?”

                For all the same reasons tax money goes to educating that child, and more.Report

              • Avatar Just Me says:

                What is your take on personal responsibility? I’m not being snarky, or saying you are wrong, I am right. I am curious where we diverge in our thinking.

                I think that we are responsible for ourselves, for the lives we bring into this world. I also think we are responsible for those we love: siblings, parents, significant others….and the list goes on. I also think that I as a woman should not have a baby if I can not afford to take care of the baby, or if I do not have enough of a cushion to take extended time off work to cover for me being home with the child. I also think that we should have a strong social support structure in place before we have a child. We should have someone we can trust with the child, someone who can be in that child’s life. This someone does not have to be a significant other, it could be a family member or a friend.

                Threaten your job for having a child? Does this mean you think that a business has a social responsibility to repopulate the workforce? That taking time off for giving birth, after any medical necessities are over should be treated differently than if Joe Blow wanted to take a month off to go antelope hunting? That because you chose to have a child you should be given time off with pay for an extended time?

                Ok, here is what I see. I see that we want to prioritize our lives. But we are unwilling to admit that our families come before our jobs. We think that we can prioritize them at the same level. I think that is highly unlikely. There is nothing wrong with saying your family comes first. In fact I think that should be the norm. But then don’t get bent out of shape because someone who prioritized their job over any family gets the promotions.

                This happens to be a soap box of mine, so of course there have been about 20 revisions of this response. That usually for me means my final revision comes out disjointed as all get out. I really don’t care if there would be a national maternity leave policy. If as a country we decided that is what we want, then go for it. I really do have a problem saying that the reason we don’t have that policy is because we are punishing people. That is just bananas in my opinion. But then again that is just my opinion…off to school now so sorry if I don’t respond for a long while after this.

                I really am interested in your take on personal responsibility though. In the end I do think that is where a lot of differences in thought between us ( as in anyone who does not believe as I do) start.Report

              • Avatar Phillip says:


                Not to speak for others, but I would say in terms of personal responsibility that you can only be responsible for what you can control. So am I responsible for feeding and educating myself? Depends on how much control I am allowed over obtaining resources and allocating time. In general, people have very little actual control (ie, I cannot do what I want and still eat) so I see a lot of victim blaming inherent in the public ideal of personal responsibility.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kyle, this again highlights where we disagree, but also where we have room for discussion. My focus is on the woman (for the reasons I described above), and I think the “pro-choice” side should recognize, and where possible without compromising the status of the woman, make concessions to the potential status of the fetus.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Isn’t the current viability cut-off (which more or less tracks the post Roe v Wade setup on trimesters) not already such a concession?

          Few, if any, pro-choicers advocate abortion on demand at all points in the pregnancy. (Although claimign they do is often a pro-life..misunderstanding, to give it a charitable interpertation).

          Stating that abortions should be allowed for any reason prior to 21 weeks or so and only after under certain rare circumstances — isn’t that already a massive concession?Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Hmm. Even stipulating, for the sake of argument, that a fetus is a full person equal to the mother in every way…

      Does the fetus have any ethical claim to the mother’s resources? If so, how is that different from, say — me demanding you donate blood that I need to survive an operation, or that since you own a compatable kidney, you pony it up?

      In all cases, I am dependent on someone else’s bodily resources if I wish to survive. The only difference between a fetus and mother, and my attempt to forcibly claim some of your bone marrow is the fetus starts off already taking resources.

      And I can’t quite bring myself to believe that constitutes a giant difference.

      Obviously, people claim fetuses occupy a special definition of ‘person’ that is different than you or I, and that thus a fetus drawing on it’s mother to grow is different from me attaching myself to your bone marrow to get my immune system working again. But that seems to privilage the fetus. Why?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’m not sure you demanding blood from me is analogous. For one, I didn’t put you there and in a position in which you’re dependent on my blood, and only my blood, for survival.

        This has always been one of the main problems with the violinist and similar dilemmas, to me.Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

        This analogy doesn’t quite work, as Chris notes, but a few points are worth noting. First, as a general rule, people who can donate blood and organs without any danger to themselves should do so. I can think of exceptions to this, but the fact is donating “bodily resources” is a morally good thing to do. Second, if I were in a situation in which someone needed my blood and/or kidney, and I was the only one who could offer this and I had no compelling moral or health reason to say “No,” say I just didn’t want to, then I would be obligated to help, I think, and my refusal would be selfish and cruel and immoral. This immorality doesn’t mean the State has the right to coerce me into donating bodily resources, but I wouldn’t think twice about calling out some jerk who let another person die because they just didn’t want to be bothered.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          First, as a general rule, people who can donate blood and organs without any danger to themselves should do so.

          The risk can be considered small (in the case of blood donation) but it is definitely nonzero; I’ve several times come close to fainting while drawing blood, and the blood center staff are highly trained to keep an eye out for people going into shock for good reason. If someone said that they do not like donating blood because they don’t react well to the process, I’m certainly not going to hold it against them – I don’t really react well to the process either (something about watching my own blood leave my body tends to give me a bad reaction) but I push through it and do my best to manage the risk, because I consider it worth doing. If I could, I’d wear a sleep mask while they took the blood, but they want to be able to watch your eyes as one of the signs of shock.

          In the case of liver donation or kidney donation, the risk is larger, and there are long-term implications in terms of lifestyle that come with the reduced organ functions the donor has.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          “Can” and “should” are choices, ethical beliefs. That’s far different from “must”. As you note yourself, you can always think them a jerk — and nothing stops a pro-lifer from calling a woman who had an abortion names either. And yet the state tries to compel her to bodily support a fetus, but not me or you to donate our blood or bone marrow.

          Should you be required, by law, to donate to me your organs, blood, or bone marrow simply because I have need of them? (Assuming, obviously, that such does not kill you).

          Morever, the concept of “danger” is quite interesting — childbirth is not a risk free process. Donating blood is considerably less damaging to the body, and far less of a risk of death than childbirth — but despite frequent shortages in blood banks, there is no compulsory donation of blood.

          I don’t think Chris’ objection holds — even if we assume the fetus is a full person, if I shoot a man and wreck his kidney, the law STILL will not compel me to donate mine. Monetary damages, sure, but my bodily integrity is legally absolute.

          Unless I’m a pregnant woman, and then it’s apparently not so much.

          “Shoulds” and “cans” are not “musts” and “wills” — they are descriptions of choices, not of mandates of law. Why is my bodily integrity so absolute that the US will not so much as demand I routinely donate blood, but her bodily integrity so flimsy that the state will mandate she support another person (best case) for 9 months at sizeable risk of permanent damage or even death?Report

          • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

            Should you be required, by law, to donate to me your organs, blood, or bone marrow simply because I have need of them? (Assuming, obviously, that such does not kill you).

            Not as a rule, no, but I’m not sure I’d oppose this absolutely.

            Why is my bodily integrity so absolute that the US will not so much as demand I routinely donate blood, but her bodily integrity so flimsy that the state will mandate she support another person (best case) for 9 months at sizeable risk of permanent damage or even death?

            A bit of a loaded question, but I’ll note the typical pro-life responses to what you’re basically asking. First, in many cases, the woman has chosen to engage in behavior that might result in pregnancy, so in these cases she’s shares responsibility for taking on these health risks. Second, the means by which she could deliberately cease to be pregnant necessitate an act of killing, an act not found in your blood and organ comparison. It’s that act that the law would forbid. The effect, or course, is that women would be legally required to stay pregnant whether or not she wished to.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              First, in many cases, the woman has chosen to engage in behavior that might result in pregnancy, so in these cases she’s shares responsibility for taking on these health risks

              Ohh, that’s a can of worms there isn’t it? You sure you want to open that? Because those waters can get nasty indeed.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Morato, your new analogy still doesn’t hold, because in constructing it, you ignored a key part of my objection: you put the individual in a position in which the only possible way for him or her to survive is for you to donate blood. So if we were changing your new analogy: if you shoot a man, and wreck his kidney, and you were the only person on the planet with more than one kidney. It gets absurd at this point, clearly, but that’s because there is no clear analogy to pregnancy outside of the womb, so in trying to build them you will either miss one of the key factors, or create an absolutely absurd situation.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              It’s very true. There is no clear analogy. Nonetheless it strikes me that bodily integrity — the right to make choices about your own body — is unassailable unless you’re a pregnant woman.

              And I think there’s a lot more than ethical questions about personhood there — I think a lot of that is the same cultural baggage that created glass ceilings and kept women from voting.

              And I don’t know if you can have a conversation about abortion without first noting that, historically and culturally, women have generally always been given less real respect for their own persons than men. And even here, about something only a woman can undergo (pregnancy) it is quite often the men that are the most vocal on the topic.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I used to work with a guy who had a Jeremy Bentham quotation as his email signature. (I’m sure you’re familiar with it.)

    “The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?”

    I assumed that he was a pro-lifer. I kicked up this conversation with him one day and his eyes got really, really big and he explained, no, he was Vegan. It never occurred to him that people would read his email and think “huh, he must be pro-life.”Report

  6. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I think you’re confusing society’s understanding with each individual’s separate understanding. Society as a whole might be uncertain about whether a fetus is a person; that doesn’t imply that each individual is therefore uncertain.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      On the contrary, I explicitly make this distinction: “Descriptively speaking, we have a great deal of uncertainty about the ontological status of the zygote and the fetus. Abortion remains controversial because there is no consensus about the ontological status of nascent life and therefore no consensus about the justice due to it. While some advocates on both sides of the debate claim certainty about their position, neither side has succeeded in convincing the other or even the general populace to embrace their particular certainty.”Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        My problem with this is twofold. First of all, it makes this sentence–“Descriptively speaking, we have a great deal of uncertainty about the ontological status of the zygote and the fetus”–kind of misleading. Who do you mean “we”, kemosabe?

        More seriously, your last paragraph elides the distinction between individual and societal uncertainty. “My uncertainty about when nascent human life becomes a human person inclines me to oppose violence against it because I do not know its ontological status and I could be very wrong about it. I readily admit that this alone does not establish a justification for a coercive legal framework that prohibits abortion, but I lean towards the possibility of it laying some initial groundwork for that end.”

        Your uncertainty is certainly not universally shared, even if society as a whole could be said to have that uncertainty. It seems a bit slanted to say “Well, some people think fetuses are people and others don’t. We can’t know for sure, so we’d better act as if they are in the interim.”Report

        • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

          Correct: my ontological uncertainty is not universally shared. I stated specifically that people on both sides of this issue do have this certainty. You keep ignoring this and pretending that my generalizations are meant or to be read as universally shared dispositions. My “we have” is not “everyone has” but “there’s a great deal of uncertainty in our society,” a relative judgment by the way.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            My problem is not saying “you don’t have the right to get an abortion”.

            My problem is the saying “I have the right to prevent you from getting an abortion.”

            I can understand how someone might say the former (even if I don’t agree). I don’t know how they get to the latter.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              I would rephrase the second sentence from “I have the right to prevent you from getting an abortion” to ” “I ought to have the power to prevent you from getting an abortion.”

              Everybody has a right to at least try and prevent abortions, even if they’re legal. You can take all sorts of actions to reduce the frequency of abortions, and you have the right to do many of those things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Sure. I was more going for the “I have the right to *PHYSICALLY* prevent you from getting one” thing.

                But, heck, even preventing abortions has stuff I agree with (“keep it to second base and, if you can’t do that, Saran Wrap”) and stuff I don’t (“let’s glue the locks to the clinic closed!”).

                Given that I see “let’s pass a law forcing the clinic to close its doors” as closer to the latter than the former, I see it as a lot closer to physically preventing a something than, say, reducing frequency through culture, education, and ready availability of Saran Wrap.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller says:

            I’d say that “a coercive legal framework that prohibits abortion” is you universalizing your own unshared uncertainty. If you personally think abortion is wrong, that’s your own decision, and you can hand out pamphlets or whatever. It’s when you try to pass laws that I get bothered.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Abortion remains controversial because there is no consensus about the ontological status of nascent life and therefore no consensus about the justice due to it.

        But there is no doubt of the ontologica status of the woman; so why is there doubt about the justice do her, and why should justice to her take second place to something of which there’s doubt?Report

        • Zic,

          Your reasoning is partially mine (although it is not the basis on which I support the right to legal abortion). However, there is a certain question-begging going on in the way you phrased it that I think is inherent in these types of discussions. When you say, for example, “so why is there doubt about the justice due her, and why should justice to her take second place to something of which there’s doubt?,” there seems to be a hint of it’s already decided that it’s justice to her even though we haven’t decided that very point, a point that might be severely constrained and have to be justified on different grounds if the ontological status of the unborn were to be agreed upon.

          In a sense, I’m picking unfairly on your incidental phrasing, because I know what you meant: we ought to respect a woman’s autonomy, and if we’re uncertain about the moral status of that which could plausibly have a counterclaim, then we ought to be careful at the very least to respect the woman’s autonomy.

          I agree, but….doesn’t that make the ontological status of the unborn one of those high-stakes value claims, a line in the sand that must be defended to the end lest our defense of pro-choice policy fails? The ontological status becomes something we have to defend our position on and, potentially, something about which we have to close our minds when it comes to entertaining counterarguments. I guess what I’m saying is, would you be willing to endorse outlawing abortion if it could be demonstrated that the zygote/embryo/fetus is a person?

          I ask because I still would remain pro-choice myself in light of such a demonstration.
          My personal sense–I’m not certain, but it is the conclusion that my thought and experiences have taken me to–is that the unborn zygote/embryo/fetus is a moral person, or at least an entity deserving of respect as an object of moral concern. And yet, I remain pro-choice, both as a policy matter and, more problematically, as a moral/ethical matter. My “argument” is more of an a priori first principle that posits a woman has the special prerogative over life and death when it comes to the entity that is tied so closely to her body. That “argument” will likely convince absolutely no one who does not already agree with my conclusion, and I myself fear I have adopted it largely because I wanted to reach the pro-choice conclusion.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            First, I tried to reflect Kyle’s language, and spelled it poorly in the process. I would never consider the decision to bear a child weighted on a scale of justice.

            But there’s also this notion of ‘being endowed by our creators.’ I dont’ believe in god; except that humans have created god, the notion fulfills some essential need in humanity. But that phrase is rather handy for expressing my feeling: when it comes to a baby, the creator is the mother. She is essential to the process; she dedicates a large chunk of time and personal resource to to that baby’s creation. I have no doubt that a fertilized egg has the potential to become a person; that somewhere between conception and birth that happens, but I’ve no interest in saying when. Because, to me, it doesn’t really matter. She is the creator, and the right to endow creation rests with her; if she chooses not to, she has the right to end the pregnancy. If she opts to endow, she endows person hood, and the child then gets to claim all the rights of personhood. But since she does have the rights of personhood, she has the right to say yes or no, and so the right to endow. Without her consent, there is no endowment of personhood.

            Through history, women’s voices, opinions, and views are mostly lost to us. Their experience is mostly relayed through the eyes of men; and so of much use. (We have the Harvard Great Books upstairs; 20 or so volumes of the great thinking of mankind. There’s not a single woman included. Not one.) So the whole ethical/moral debate of abortion is, until very recently, missing the voices of those concerned. Or mostly. But I go back to the places where we see what women actually did that was documented: they grew herb gardens to help with their job of caring for their family’s health. And a good many of the plants they grew in those gardens were for the soul purpose of ‘bringing on the menses;’ for ending pregnancy in it’s early stages, before quickening, and the ‘endowment of personhood.’

            To me, this whole debate has, since the advancements in medical science that allow is to pinpoint contraception dates, etc., has moved the debate of a woman’s right to control of her own body backward by about four months.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Tags. before the offending tag without closure, ‘relayed through the eyes of men, and so not of much use.”

              Emphasis on the left out not.Report

            • Zic,

              Thanks for your thoughtful response, and I think I share most of the views you express in it. Your second paragraph more or less states, but more precisely and in better-thought-out terms, my view on a woman’s prerogative to have, as I noted in my comment, “the special prerogative over life and death.”

              One thing that bothers me about my (and, it appears, your) position is that there is a point at which this prerogative ends and it’s hard for me to discern where that point should be. People as a rule today do not endorse infanticide, for example, and they therefore seem to draw the line at a point as early as birth, although of course some might draw it earlier.

              My concern plays into the point you make in your last sentence, that pinpointing dates of conception to an instance that is probably prior to older notions of “quickening” restricts women’s prerogatives as recognized by law. I’ll add to that the advancements in medical science that (if I understand them correctly) that enable doctors to make earlier births more viable. These advancements have the potential to restrict (if they haven’t already) women’s legal prerogative, but in my opinion, they also cause me to question the moral prerogative as well.

              I recognize, of course, that for me this is largely a theoretical concern. As a male, I’ll at most experience pregnancy only secondarily. And my “theoretical” concerns, if enacted into public policy, can have very practical and coercive effects on those who do have to face the possibility of becoming pregnant.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I always think there should be an exception for the health of the mother; that seems part and parcel with our right to self defense.

                I would favor limits, otherwise, on anything after 4.5 months, except for one reason: for many women, having an abortion earlier is a problem due to access, time requirements, or cost. If you have to travel far, have an imposed wait period, or pay several hundred dollars (or some combination thereof,) those limits are burdensome. There are, from my personal experience, also concerns of prenatal testing that only return results after that time; but that was a quarter century ago, and I don’t know if it still takes that long.Report

              • Zic,

                Those are pretty much my thoughts.Report

        • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

          A fair question. To begin an answer, though, we need to specify what precisely is meant by “justice due” in each case. That may influence how we compare and weigh them.Report

  7. Avatar James K says:

    You raise an interesting question Kyle, thought I don’t think it is that simple to separate ought from is here.

    To explain why, let’s look at the hospitality example you used, but with a twist: One night, you see a figure silhouetted in the moonlight. It’s clod outside, but you don’t know who this person is, and fearing for your family you leave them outside. In the morning you look outside and realise the figure was actually a scarecrow placed there as a prank. Did you wrong the scarecrow by refusing it your hospitality? I would argue the question is incoherent – you can’t wrong a scarecrow, inanimate objects lack the capacity to be wronged. The same is true of “violence”, it’s not generally considered violent to chop down a tree, even though that means killing a living thing. Nor is using antibiotics on bacteria considered violent.

    The very idea of whether concepts like hospitality, obligation or violence are even relevant hinges on the question of whether a foetus (or a zygote, or a blastocyst) is a person, or an inanimate object, or something in-between. Without settling that question, nothing else can be agreed upon.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      Thanks. This is something I was trying to get at, but your might be clearer than mine.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Agreed. For me certainly a woman’s rights to sovereignty over her own body trump just about any consideration but I know for a lot more thoughtful open minded pro-choicers this is a definitive point. The burdens and impositions of unwanted pregnancy are real and concrete and the existence of a woman carrying the pregnancy to term is undeniable. In contrast the burdens and costs and the very moral status of the nascent life within said women is all shrouded in controversy, disagreement and unknowable’s.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      I agree that hospitality to a scarecrow or something you isn’t a person can’t be had, and so the ontological question is a relevant one. I am suggesting, however, that the case of the zygote and fetus may be one of endless night, despite people on both sides of the debate claiming the clear sunlight of certainty. Ontology is important, but, with Nietzsche, I think our ontology ought to be modest, especially when an ontological status may not be clear. If I don’t know whether the scarecrow is a person or not, and I have cause to think it might be, then at that moment hospitality comes into play. I might feel foolish in the morning, but I might instead feel relieved if the figure turns out to have been a harmless person in need.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        It all comes down to probabilities but then everything does, after all certainty is a luxury we do not have.

        How likely is it that a foetus is a person, based on what we know about them and how we define “person”? That, to me at least, is the question that defines the abortion issue.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Oh indeed Kyle, but when we’re talking not about your own hospitality but compelling it in others (especially others who don’t share one’s own opinion) the harm potential magnifies enormously.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      But change the scenario a little. You’re a demolitions expert, and you’re about to bring down a building. At the last second you see movement inside, a fluttering of fabric. It could be a curtain, or it could be a person. Don’t you check? Don’t you err on the side of not “killing” an inanimate object over killing a living being?Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        If you can obtain more information at a fairly small cost (a minute’s delay to check things out) then by all means do so. But if that information can’t be obtained at any price, like whether a foetus counts as a person (we can’t even agree on the criteria for working that out) then you either push the plunger or not, and whether you do depends utterly on what your estimate of P(X = Person).Report

        • Avatar Pinky says:

          A man is accused of a series of murders. If he is found not guilty, he will go free and may kill again. If he is found guilty, he will be imprisoned for life and likely executed. We make a decision with the imperfect available information at the time. Do we make that decision based on probability? No. We err on the side of his freedom. In close calls, we opt for the right to life of the individual.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            In close calls, we opt for the right to life of the individual.

            Yes, but that doesn’t mean probabilities don’t come into play, it merely means that there must be a high probability of guilt before you declare guilty. You take your probability and apply it to your standard of evidence, if you see what I mean.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Information becomes its own problem. Two men are accused of murder: the famous case of Burke and Hare comes to mind. Hare turns King’s Evidence, testifies against Burke. Burke goes to the gallows, Hare goes free.

            All sorts of nauseating deals are done to obtain information. The most substantive attacks on abortion are made on the basis of information: reporting requirements, parental consent — Roe itself is based on the right to privacy. Casey weakens that right somewhat. The next attack on abortion will push the door open even farther.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The ontology issue surrounding abortion gets muddy every time we have to go inside a woman to see if someone else is in there. And just who might that someone else be? And how did that someone else get in there? For all the talk about abortion, a topic which heartily sickens me every time it’s raised — and all the tiresomely predictable hash-slinging which arises — at some point we ought to lay off the false dichotomies and return to biology.

    One haploid cell merges with another haploid cell and thus we are created. Sperm donors, egg donors, the fate of frozen embryos, rent-a-uterus schemes, adoption, all well within the domain of personal choice and it’s all of a piece with the abortion debate. Even within theological constructs, there’s been no hard-and-fast definition of when the body is infused with a soul and plenty of references to partial animation. The Greeks and Romans had laws surrounding abortion which considered father’s parental rights in all this, a topic which never once enters discussion in our times. The Hippocratic Oath proscribes abortion and poisons but also proscribes knife surgery in the next sentence, saying

    I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgement; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

    I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

    I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favour of such men as are engaged in this work.

    Those who anciently swore Hippocratic Oath were dieticians and pharmacists and seemingly social welfare types. The Hippocratic Oath is therefore no guide: there were other medical specialities which catered to abortions and surgeries.

    Hospitality, even Derrida’s hospitality, comes with ground rules. That’s why Derrida uses hospitality as a working example. A woman misses her period, she becomes pregnant. Who’s in there? Isn’t half of that “guest” one of her own cells? And what about the other haploid cell? Isn’t that the father’s cell? When does that “guest” assume an independent identity?Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    It occurred to me not so long ago that the most difficult ethical issue raised by abortion isn’t whether killing can be ethically justifiable, but whether it can be ethically unjustifiable to be.Report

  10. Avatar s l mccoy says:

    I really do not understand this whole discussion. Suppose a zygote/morula/blastocyst/embryo/fetus is a person. Now suppose the following cases.

    One woman consents to heterosexual sexual intercourse with a man but says she does not consent to pregnancy even though she does not use contraception. Another woman consents to heterosexual sexual intercourse with a man and insists on two forms of contraception; she is clearly stating in this that she does not consent to pregnancy by this insistence on contraceptive conditions. Still another woman does not consent to heterosexual sexual intercourse and is raped – her refusal to consent to the intercourse clearly implies that she does not consent to pregnancy by this man, either. The first and third women have a 1/21 chance of pregnancy; the second has a 1/99.9 chance.

    The first and second women each agreed to let a particular man put one of his body parts, but not all of them, inside her vagina but not her uterus. The third did not even agree to this. Did any of these women agree to let any of her oocytes be fertilized? No. Did any of them agree to let a third person, a blastocyst, to enter her uterus? No.

    All the women have oocytes fertilized, and the zygotes all grow into blastocysts and enter into the women’s uteruses. None of the women is aware of the presence of a blastocyst there. All are aware that science has proved human blastocysts have natural life spans of only a maximum 8-10 days if provided with only average nutrients, and that science has proved for non-human mammalian blastocysts that their natural life spans can be maximally doubled if fed a scientific supernutrient when grown in a petri dish. Thus, the women know that, even if uninvited blastocyst-persons have entered their uteri without permission, they cannot stay there longer than 8-10 days under natural circumstances, and cannot stay longer than 16-20 days even under extraordinary circumstances not available in their uteruses.

    Now, during the 8-10 day period in which the women do not actively kick the blastocyst-persons out, the latter all implant into the endometrial walls of the uteri of the women. These blastocyst-persons use physicochemical force to penetrate into their bodily tissue and take part of their bodily tissue to make placentas. They direct the placentas to kill some of the local attack T-cells of the women’s immune systems, produce an enzyme to catabolize the local tryptophan in their bodies, on which the attack T-cells feed, to starve those cells and force them into latency to survive, so they cannot continue trying to reject the implantation. The blastocyst/embryo persons received no permission to do this at any time.

    Then the women discover that they are pregnant, i.e., that this sort of implantation has occurred. Do you honestly believe that any of these blastocyst/embryo persons have a right to stay implanted in the bodily tissue of these women, to direct the placentas to re-channel the blood of these women, and to take oxygen and nutrients out of the blood of these women without permission in order to extend their natural life spans beyond the spans they were capable of having without penetrating the bodily tissue of the women and using their tissue and disabling their immune systems and re-channeling their blood and stealing their oxygen?

    Of course not. These blastocyst/embryo persons are invaders. Moreover, they have violated the wall of the uterus, a known sex organ. How do any of them differ from the rapist of the third woman?

    In NY state, any person threatened with rape or sexual abuse or being subjected to rape or sexual abuse has the right to use lethal force if necessary to prevent or stop the rape or sexual abuse, and a third party has the right to use lethal force if necessary to do so, too.

    The women should certainly be allowed to use lethal force if necessary to prevent or stop the penetration of the endometrial walls of their uteri and the attacks on their immune systems and the re-channeling of their blood and the theft of their blood oxygen and nutrients. After all, if any of us did to another person what the blastocyst/embryo persons do to the sex organs of a woman, she would have the right to use lethal force if necessary to stop us.Report