Comment Rescue: Cultural Merits of Abortion

In response to a statement in Dan Scotto’s recent post about the (as we now know, false) accusation that Planned Parenthood was implicated in the sale of fetal tissue recovered from abortions, I commented in relevant part (correcting a spelling error) as follows. Note that I begin by quoting Dan’s (edited) OP, which in turn is predicated upon an assumption that the reader is familiar with the moral arguments for and against permitting abortions based on the ambiguous temporal point in which “personhood” manifests in a gestating fetus.


More troubling is that if more developed fetal tissue is worth more money on the market, then Planned Parenthood is incentivized to delay abortions. Even if you are pro-choice, surely there is a line somewhere between when the fetus is merely a clump of cells and when the fetus is a living human. (Most pro-lifers believe that the line is at conception.) The further along in the pregnancy a woman gets, the closer we are to that line. Stated differently, even if you believe that there is no distinction between 7 days, 7 weeks, and 7 months, simple intuition should lead us to assume that it is possible that we’re doing something worse by aborting a fetus at 7 months than at 7 weeks. (The alternative–that it is worse to abort at 7 weeks than 7 months–is illogical.) [edited for clarity] Thus, because this is an area of intense ambiguity, if abortion is legal, it seems prudent to err on the side of caution and encourage abortions to be earlier in the term, so that we are less likely to be committing murder.

If I “believe that there is no distinction between 7 days, 7 weeks, and 7 months,” then no, my intuition will not be that “we’re doing something worse by aborting a fetus at 7 months than at 7 weeks” because my belief is that “there is no distinction between … 7 weeks, and 7 months.” Aborting at 7 weeks and aborting at 7 months are equivalent; one equivalent cannot be worse than the other as a matter of logic.

Now, the fact is my intuition is uneasy with such a statement, so the antecedent assumption must be false: intuitively, there is a distinction between 7 days, 7 weeks, and 7 months. I personally am at a loss to logically articulate what that difference might be. One human being does not owe another extraordinary efforts to preserve life; perhaps one wishes to extend such efforts and we might find such a desire and such efforts morally praiseworthy. Moreover, to fail to that which is praiseworthy is not the equivalent of acting contemptibly. The potential for a fetus to survive viably outside the womb is irrelevant to these propositions.

That leaves me with the intuitive notion that somehow the relationship of mother to a gestating (potential) child in her womb is different than, say, the relationship of a person in critical care who needs my rare type of bone marrow transplanted in order to survive an otherwise certainly-fatal illness. Most people would agree that I don’t owe that person my bone marrow.

Why, then, do we disagree that the mother of a (potential) child seven months into gestation owes that (potential) child two additional months of biological life support, life support which comes at the cost to her of substantial pain, restricted mobility, dietary restrictions, difficulty eliminating and sleeping, and so on? If she wants to bring the child to term and give birth, of course we may praise her for doing so, but it’s a different thing to say she is morally obligated to do so.

The contrary intuition, driven by the fact that it’s a relationship between mother and child, doesn’t square with logic, my response is that there is something cultural and subjective happening that skews intuition away from logic. Culturally, we assign a high value to the mother-child relationship; most of us are products of nurturing, loving mother-child relationships and those of us who have not had the benefit of such relationships likely keenly feel that absence as compared with more fortunate peers. But that’s not something that necessarily transcends the culture: it is simply not the case that all mother-child relationships are loving and nurturing and to imply that they all should be, at minimum, imposes our modern, western ideals upon people who, perhaps for very good reason, do not wish to share them.

Writ differently, we still come back to a basic difference in values between people, even within our own culture: some value life as an inherent good with a higher value than the competing good of individual autonomy; others make the converse valuation. We may shade those valuations by bringing in other axes of analysis: we may value the life of an infant, who has not yet made any morally significant decisions, differently than that of a convicted murderer; we may value the freedom of a woman more, less, or equally to that of a man, and so on.

But ultimately, we’re looking at a comparison of competing goods. We can all agree that in the abstract, life is a good to be pursued, and autonomy is also a good to be pursued. As a society, we aren’t very skilled at balancing competing goods against one another.


Now, this comment gets at the issue of the mortality of abortion, which in turn implicates whether abortion ought to be legal. Which is one of the difficult questions we confront in this age and in this culture. Which, I think, is what this is imbroglio really all about. For the record, I have been pro-choice since my college years, but have also insisted upon recognizing the good faith of a pro-life position grounded upon moral caution since that same time.

In any event, I think there is intellectual profit to be had in segregating cultural biases from rational analyses, even in, and perhaps particularly in, a discussion of an issue as contentious as abortion. I suspect it can be very difficult for anyone to see when one’s own culture is at play when making moral judgments, because of course when I (and people who agree with me) pass moral judgments I’m obviously being rational and objective, while those other people (who disagree with me) are being totally culturally subjective and irrational. And I also think that we as a community here need to move past some of the meta-issues with respect to Dan’s post and get back to substantive issues.

So have at it.

 

Burt LikkoBurt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California and the managing editor of Ordinary Times. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.

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46 thoughts on “Comment Rescue: Cultural Merits of Abortion

  1. They certainly aren’t the same for me.

    The first seems implausibly early, and is (presumably) only there for effect. I suppose its possible that something like a rape would trigger an investigation that would lead to one that soon (or we could be talking about morning-after drugs).

    The second seems a pretty normal time for something unexpected/unwanted to be discovered, considered, and dealt with.

    The third means that you’ve spent a lot of time being pregnant before deciding to take action. Which seems wrong in the sense that I can’t imagine following that timeline (as an “involved” party not the decision-maker, so we are clear) unless we are talking about medical problems that developed during pregnancy.

    Of course, having an abortion seems generally wrong to me too (as I suspect it does to many who join me on the pro-choice side of this issue). I nevertheless think abortions should be as available as any other medical procedure, and strongly support the efforts of organizations like PP who fight to make that happy.

    So the question isn’t really if I “believe that there is no distinction between 7 days, 7 weeks, and 7 months,” but whether I believe there should be a legal distinction between the three. And I don’t, because this should be a choice made between a pregnant woman and her doctor, based on so many complex and difficult variables that no law could possibly avoid absurd results.

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    • I would be very, very, VERY surprised if any 7th month abortions involve any choices at all. As I understand the statistics, 7th month abortions are all medically necessary. It’s abort or die. Or delivery a dead fetus, or one that will live minutes if at all.

      As a society, we spend an AWFUL lot of time talking about late-term abortions despite the fact that late-term abortions are incredibly rare AND entirely medical. (It’s not legal anywhere in the US to have one for any other reason than health of the mother or infant). If you’re 7 months pregnant, you’ve decided long since you wanted that baby — so an abortion is a personal tragedy, not an option.

      But it’s easier to spin a good PR tale about a woman aborting her fetus because she ‘changed her mind’ and get a solid response than to talk about a women aborting at 7 weeks.

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      • I mean aborting her fetus at 7 months is easier to use from a PR perspective, even though any case in American you find of a 7th month abortion is almost certainly a tragedy from the mother’s perspective.

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      • Yup. From everything I’ve seen, there’s a more statistical chance of actually winning those free trips to Aruba you get spam email about than a woman just randomly waking up during her 35th week of pregnancy and saying, “ya’ know, I don’t think I want this kid after all.”

        I mean, I’m sure it has happened before in the history of humanity, but seriously…

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        • Bear in mind that saying “You know, 7-month abortions are exceeding rare, and when they happen are almost uniformly caused by danger to the mother’s life,” is not the same thing as saying “a 7-week abortion [is/is not] the moral equivalent of a 7-month abortion.”

          One thing this makes clear is that we ought to make explicit the implied use of the adjective “elective” in the initial phrasing that set me off thinking and writing in the other comment thread — “an elective 7-week abortion [is/is not] the moral equivalent of an elective 7-month abortion.” My intuition tells me that these things are not equivalents, but logic tells me that they are.

          I agree, though, that the exceeding rarity and near-uniformity of medical necessity of late-term abortions is quite important to bear in mind, especially for someone who (like me) has a reflexive urge to tell people to “cool out already” and must exercise a force of will to stand back and let folks have at it with each other (because yeah, sometimes people need to do that).

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  2. Burt, this is simply the best post on the debate that I have come across. I have always supported abortion, believing it is totally a woman’s right. But I do understand that others see it as murder. And all of the changes in wording, permutations of when it is performed, drugs that are or are not doing it, etc. don’t change those simple facts. This is not an issue that is going to be decided easily any time soon.

    Like gun control, it is one of the issues that many pick a side on, and all facts and numbers and tales make no difference on that opinion. While the rest of the nation wants a clean line, one that allows freedom of choice but lets them retain the morality they deeply crave.

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  3. It is, as far as I’m concerned, a private medical decision. Anyone who’s not been pregnant cannot begin to understand the import of that, either. Late term abortions rarely happen unless there are severe medical complications. Most second-trimester abortions happen to 1) girls under 18, who probably don’t know or fear to say that they’re pregnant and 2) women who can’t afford to get a 1st trimester abortion.

    I’ll stress, once again, that the abortion rate is now lower than it was when Roe v. Wade was decided; and I expect, when Obamacare numbers become available, we’ll see a significant drop in states where that did the Medicaid buy-in, and a slight drop in states that didn’t, simply due to the contraceptive mandate.

    What I cannot abide is the notion that 1) abortion is wrong and 2) contraceptive should not be readily available as a part and parcel of women’s health care. With that said, I’d be as happy as anyone to see the abortion rate near zero. But that depends on access to proper health care; to contraception.

    As to morals and the moral belief that abortion is murder and contraception evil, I’ve only got one answer: teach you children that. Practice that yourself. But your belief has nothing to do with me or any other person. And once they reach the age of adulthood, it doesn’t even have anything to do with your own children, either.

    Imagine how it would feel if, when you go in for heart surgery, you were held up and ridiculed and told you were evil because you smoked or drank or ate fried chicken or sat at a desk all day long or had genes that lead to weak hearts. Imagine being told, upon discovering you are diabetic, that you cannot receive insulin because God intended you to be diabetic. Imagine that you break you hand, threatening your ability to make a living, but are told no, that’s what God intended. That’s what we do to women every day.

    This whole debate is as if women were children and unable to be responsible for their own lives and make their own decisions, and I have no tolerance for this at all. Because people think abortion is murder, they want to make it illegal. But they don’t want to punish the woman, the person deciding to murder a child (in their view,) they want to punish the medical provider because either the woman is not culpable for her own choices or they know that their attempts to wrest back control of women would fail. So the failure even extends here; so long as women can be viewed as children, it’s okay to tell women what and how to conduct their lives.

    I appreciate your efforts to maintain the evil antiabortion advocates perceive.

    I want you to also recognize the evil I see in that stance; it dehumanizes women and treats them as not-fully adult and responsible; it’s projecting and forcing your beliefs on others without consideration of their own beliefs. Some people, people like me, think having an unwanted child is immoral. Forcing a pregnancy is evil.

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    • the moral belief that abortion is murder . . . . But your belief has nothing to do with me or any other person.

      I think this issue is hard precisely because that isn’t true. If you believe something is murder, that isn’t a private matter (unlike, say, SSM where the anti- crowd never had a persuasive argument beyond the idea that gays are icky).

      I think the moral belief is wrong, but that won’t change anyone’s mind. I think restrictions are wrong for the same reasons prohibition was wrong (it’s not a behavior we want to encourage, but we know it will happen whether or not legal, so lets not make it criminal). I think restrictions are wrong because they place zero weight on the life of the mother (which means more than just “will she die before or during delivery”) and 100% weight on the life of the child. And I think we can trust individuals to make very difficult decisions in the way that is best for their own lives, which is a net good for society.

      But I just don’t think we can say that people with views like the Catholic church (every life is sacred and cannot be sacrificed, whether abortion, capital punishment, poverty, whatever) have to mind their own business.

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      • I also think that “Abortion is murder” isn’t really as solid a belief as it’s often claimed. Maybe that’s my own bias, but if I believed that abortion was murder — truly killing babies — I’d do a lot more than gripe on the internet or donate to politicians.

        There’s enough stories of even die-hard picketers quietly getting their daughters an abortion to make me think a lot most pro-life folks really believe it. At least not early on. (I don’t even know WHAT to think of those people. And I know of a few cases personally where an abortion was quietly arranged for otherwise very pro-life people, generally in the cases of pregnant teenage daughters. Gossip gets around).

        The way people treat early versus late miscarriages — or miscarriages in general — seems to indicate we don’t consider the death of a fetus the same as the death of an infant. (Although again, you see a convergence as the length of the pregnancy increases. Miscarriages at 7 months are treated entirely different than at 7 weeks).

        I believe many of the pro-life folks feel abortion is immoral, at the very least. I don’t doubt their sincerity.

        I suspect even more believe many women are getting abortions for immoral reasons, but that moral (or at least acceptable) reasons exist. It’s just that, obviously, other people haven’t thought about it properly. (That’s the only way I can square the circle of pro-lifers getting abortions. And I don’t think it’s that uncommon).

        I suppose what I’m saying is that I think, in reality, that “abortion is murder” is overly simplistic and doesn’t remotely resemble the array of thought behind the pro-life side. For some people, yes, always. At some point in the pregnancy for others. For others it’s just immoral. Or immoral if done for the wrong reasons, which is obviously most people.

        Makes a darn good slogan. Means your opponents are pro-murder.

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        • I don’t take issue with any of this, though I don’t think the Catholic church is the only group that really does believe abortion is murder.

          I certainly agree that, as with many things, its easy for conservatives to rail against the others who benefit from services/policies/etc. right up until they need those benefits themselves. Then FYIGM looks a lot less appealing. I certainly think opposition to abortion flows (in some people) from not understanding how there could be a need for one because one was raised in a financially/socially secure environment.

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          • I think it might be simpler than that. Strangers are just that –strangers. We don’t know their life stories.

            When a woman gets an abortion, her circumstances, life, and personality do not trail behind or, for everyone to see and judge.

            You know why you (or your daughter, or your friend) might be there for an abortion. You know them as a person, you know their reasons, you know their judgement. You know it’s the best choice for yourself, or your friend, or your daughter. You know all the reasons it came to this, from petty to important.

            But you don’t know that about strangers. So you assume the worst.

            So the stranger entering the clinic? Slut. Immoral baby-killer. Your daughter? Pregnant by her ex-boyfriend, can’t ruin her life at 16….

            More than anything, I think it’s the fact that we’re quite willing to believe the stranger makes awful, immoral decisions — and trust ourselves to make the right ones.

            It’s not like it’s anything new — you see it over welfare (“I’m on unemployment because I lost my job. THOSE people are just lazy”) to politics (“All those ignorant voters, just pulling the lever when they can’t even place American on a map!”).

            There are people who would never countenance an abortion, for themselves, their friends, their daughters, or a stranger. But I think plenty feel “I know I’d make the right decision, but not them”.

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            • Oh absolutely. Knowing people vs. unknown people is a huge difference in every social interaction from LGBT acceptance to road rage (“THAT ASSHOLE CUT ME O… oh, hello neighbor!”)

              It just drives me crazy that people can’t step back and see it, whether it’s Mrs. N’s family that lives in a town existing only because there’s a huge AFB there railing against the idea that government spending can provide stimulus or cranky old folks wanting the government’s hands off their medicare. But then, it would. I’m a liberal.

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      • “If you believe something is murder, that isn’t a private matter”

        Actually, for most of human history and still for much of humanity today this isn’t true. The very existence of public prosecutors is a recent invention (still not found in many countries), and the first criminal codes in the West focused more on property crime than violence. Murder was very much a private matter to be resolved either by private prosecution or by retribution.

        (That said, medical abortions have also been rare in human history; safe surgery is very recent.)

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        • True, as a historical exercise, but those aren’t the norms in this country (nor have they really ever been) so I don’t think they support the argument that pro-life folks should just butt out. And I think using that argument where it doesn’t fit weakens its use in other areas where it’s a logical winner (like gay marriage).

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  4. Absolutism in one direction produces absolutism in the other.

    Asserting that there is no difference between a fertilized egg and a newborn baby is no less absurd than the assertion that there is no difference between an 8 month fetus and a fingernail.

    Roe actually got it right, IMO, by establishing gradations of society’s stake in the decision.

    But to determine a set of gradations, a gradual narrowing of individual choice and a widening of societal authority requires difficult negotiation and compromise and acceptance which is hard to come by.

    Most people forget that in 1973, the RCC was pretty much a minority viewpoint among religious, in their insistence on personhood at conception. Evangelicals at the time were much more nuanced, both from the pulpit level and in the pews. Since then, the position has hardened and dug into a Maginot Line of opposition, and co-opted into a larger war against modernity and feminism.

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  5. Murder? No. But you are killing your child/potential child. That’s what it is. But I’m not going to sugar coat it with platitudes or vagueness of “it just being tissue”. Note, I’m pro choice and I’ve had my own “experiences” in this arena.

    But tell me why it takes two to tango and get a woman pregnant, but the downside risk is all mine, because I have no say in the matter. She decides to abort and I’m off scott free. She decides to keep it, I’m on the hook for 20 years of support. This is fundamentally not right or just.

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        • There are ton of risks to pregnancy. That she chooses the pregnancy does not make those risks go away, it’s just that she accepts them. Your point that your risks are not entirely within your control is valid, but you seemed to be implying that in continuing or terminating the pregnancy, she had no risks at all. That isn’t the case.

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          • @north

            Pregnancy risks are irrelevant for the reason you indicate: “That she chooses the pregnancy does not make those risks go away, it’s just that she accepts them.” I wasn’t speaking to pregnancy related risks, only the risks I incur as a male in that situation. And, as you said, my concern is valid, yet I have zero control and all downside.

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            • The risks aren’t irrelevant at all- they exist no matter what option she chooses. There is nothing she can do to eliminate her risks, just like there is nothing you can do to eliminate her risks.

              I don’t understand how you can say that risks are irrelevant just because you can choose one set over another.

              ETA: I think the problem here is that I am incapable of reducing a pregnancy, desired or otherwise, into just a financial decision. It makes no sense to me, as whatever the outcome there is a lot more than just money involved.

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              • “they exist no matter what option she chooses.”

                No, we were talking about the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term. And those risks are irrelevant to the decision of keeping or terminating the pregnancy, barring any advance knowledge that she’d have complications during the pregnancy.

                “just like there is nothing you can do to eliminate her risks.” I’ll assume you mean MY risks. And of course I can eliminate them. My risks are created by the laws currently on the books. If the laws were changed, I’d have no or less risks.

                “I think the problem here is that I am incapable of reducing a pregnancy, desired or otherwise, into just a financial decision.” Who said that that was what I was saying?

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        • What Gingergene said. The power and responsibility in current abortion/childbirth decisions rests with the actor who bears the burdens and risks. Men bear little of either so they have little legal power in the matter.

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  6. There is rational bias for our discomfort with late-term abortions; we are talking a transformation from undifferentiated cells to a viable human with agency; it’s logical to assume that transformation takes place at some time during the pregnancy; and there is a difference in that process between seven weeks and seven months and nine months. At seven months, a baby has, if it’s healthy and normal, a chance of surviving. I fully understand why there’s moral discomfort there. I think most women recognize that there’s moral discomfort there, and that’s why late-term abortions are so very, very rare, and why they’re almost always done in crisis; they’re tragedies, not careless disregard for unborn life.

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  7. There is no shortage of things that I vaguely disapprove of for reasons above and beyond the aesthetic that I also think are not under my personal jurisdiction (and from there it’s easy to wonder how it might be under the jurisdiction of someone who says “It’s under my jurisdiction!”).

    “This is a moral issue therefore I have not only the right but the obligation to intervene” is a statement that I quite regularly need unpacked.

    (Which is not to say that there is *NOTHING* that is under my jurisdiction but it does seem to me that the burden of proof is on the people asserting their jurisdiction rather than on the people who say that it’s not.)

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  8. I think I better comment under thinly-veiled pseudonym to avoid any potential future detrimental Googlation if obgyning.

    I generally agree with Roe’s notion of acquired personhood, which I was also taught in my Catholic high school. The conclusions were different, of course, but both sides acknowledge the validity of the other side’s argument. And I will take seriously no argument on abortion that fails to do this. Thus, while I am technically pro-choice, I do think we should be cautious as a society in case it turns out we’re very very wrong.

    Being cautious entails taking into account the following facts:

    (1) The “tissue” is a human life distinctive from that of the mother. By aborting the “tissue”, “fetus”, whatever other term we may use to distance ourselves from the act or to add medical objectivity, we are actually ending another human’s life.

    (2) The medical establishment can currently sustain life in an infant that has been separated from her mother at greater than seven months of gestation. This is because before that time the infant’s lungs have not yet developed the ability to produce surfactant that is necessary for self-sufficient breathing. This is a technical limitation, and not an absolute one. Someday, the medical establishment will be able to sustain life in more-premature infants. This makes the seven-month window quite arbitrary and distinct to our particular era.

    Given this, I’m curious if would consistently adhere to his espoused indifference if the medical establishment were capable of independently sustaining an infant at four-months gestation? How about two weeks? Immediately after conception?

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    • I can’t speak for Burt, of course, but the woman’s body is the woman’s body when we’re talking a zygote, an embryo, and fetus, and through the gestation of the fetus. If the question is the woman’s bodily autonomy, then even if they could remove a zygote immediately after the egg is fertilized, forcing a woman to either have it removed or carry the zygote/embryo/fetus is still a violation of that autonomy, and a rather significant one.

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      • , are you saying that the zygote/embryo/fetus is a part of the woman’s body? Your second statement implies that you’d allow elective abortions up until natural birth and no emergency c-sections without the informed consent of the mother. Is that the case?

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        • I am not saying that it is part of the woman’s body. I am also not saying no emergency c-sections, as long as the same sorts of criteria are used to determine whether it a c-section is necessary that are used for other invasive medical procedures when it is not possible for the patient to give consent.

          “Elective abortions” up until birth? Probably, understanding of course that no one elects have a 3rd trimester abortion unless they have a really damn good reason.

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    • As a matter of law and morality, I do not link viability and personhood.

      1) Significant numbers of people (not infants) cannot survive without extraordinary effort. They are still people.

      2) Viability will always be a moving target and based upon the state of technology, and as importantly upon the state of available technology. If a fetus becomes a person at, say, 7 months in 2015 in New York University’s neonatal pediatric ward, then why wasn’t an 8-month fetus person back in 1970 in a rural Kenya medical clinic’s tent?

      3) Personhood doesn’t strike me as the best means of determining whether there is a “right to life” such that a mother may be required, either by the dictates of morality or law, to continue carrying the child to term against her will. Let us stipulate that a fetus is a person vested with the full rights of an autonomous adult at whatever point in time you please, as early as conception. The fetus’ personhood does not necessarily trigger a moral obligation and indeed, it seems to me that there are many other instances in which we generally and uncontroversially would hold a person’s “right to life” subordinate to other interests. That’s why I brought up the example of the bone marrow donor in the OP and the underlying comment.

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      • You are indeed a rare bird.

        Personhood, in my view, is a legal concept while viability a technological issue.

        But I expect that many people find that vesting personhood (and, arguably, the right not to be aborted) in a fetus makes sense at viability. That is the point, after all, when the State can take the baby away from its mother. We don’t allow mothers to kill/abandon newborns. Instead, they are stripped of their parental rights and the infant gets to live with another. Why can’t we do the same with a viable fetus?

        (One answer is that the level of invasion that the State needs to exercise against the pregnant woman in order to preserve the fetal life is far far higher than removing a living baby from an unsafe environment.)

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  9. The decision to have an abortion is not made in a moral vacuum, either.

    I had a baby already, I was living in poverty, I could not work because I could not afford day care – I did scrabble together some part time jobs when my then spouse was done working his 12 hours a day, but it didn’t make a significant difference in our income. (I was married, and my spouse worked, but making very little money), and I got pregnant again even though I was using birth control (because the same doctor who prescribed my birth control pills, prescribed antibiotics for an infection and didn’t tell me that the latter could make the former ineffective, and yes, I could have read that on the insert, but I didn’t).

    So to me, the most moral decision was to take care of the baby I already had without taking on additional financial burden that would consign us to continued poverty. I am grateful that it was safe and legal, and if I were in those circumstances again, I would make the same decision. You can see my discussion of the disincentives for giving birth under Dan Scotto’s post – you cannot ignore those when discussion abortion, and those who are opposed to abortion tend to support policies that increase those disincentives to giving birth.

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  10. Damon: yet I have zero control and all downside

    I only flag this to illustrate how our concepts of law and justice are so often at odds with the natural world.
    I see Damon’s point, echoed frequently by men. That the power and control over pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting is asymmetrical. Women have choice, men have responsibility.

    But how could it possibly be otherwise? The notion of the two sexes being in perfect legal symmetry, their power and choices and responsibilities balanced and yet separate is a fantasy.

    The sexes are different, and it goes beyond reproduction- we see the world in slightly different ways, express ourselves differently, have different ambitions and desires.

    I see this as yet another attempt to impose an artificial structure over the natural world- to decouple our biological selves from our legal selves, just as we strive to place artificial boundaries between life and death, between human and animal.
    The natural world has its own boundaries and logic and definitions; ours are constructed to serve our utilitarian ends, but shouldn’t be confused for something innate.

    The notion that men and women are neutered legal beings is a fiction that serves our purposes nicely when we discuss some matters like employment but collapses when we try to apply it universally.

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    • Very good points here LWA. That asymmetry was what I wanted to point out. “The notion that men and women are neutered legal beings is a fiction that serves our purposes nicely when we discuss some matters like employment but collapses when we try to apply it universally.”

      Indeed….but our society is filled with “but we’re all equal” when it servers some power group’s agenda, when we clearly are not. And this is what I despise about the current system. We are either ALL equal or we are ALL not equal. There is not middle ground.

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      • I see nothing but middle ground, that’s my point.

        There isn’t any possible way to craft a legal arrangement that somehow delivers perfect equality of power and choice to men and women concerning reproduction, in the same way that anything else that touches on biology will never be equal.

        If we begin with a shared intuition that we want a just ordering of things, (defined as where everyone feels empowered and their interests satisfied ) then equality is just a tool we use when convenient, and jettison when it gets in the way.

        I alluded to this in the comment, where we apply an order to the natural world that it doesn’t support.
        For example, Jefferson applied a Cartesian grid of townships and ranges to the entire American West, and that system of mapping still governs our understanding of property to this day.
        Our laws and legal systems consider these artificial rectangles of land to all be equal- this piece of land here in a swamp is no different legally than that one on a prairie. The uses of land were arbitrary, and could be zoned for this or that, entirely at our will and choice.

        But of course later the environmental movement defined things differently- that swamps and grassland had different needs and could not, should not be treated the same.
        This caused a lot of pain for property owners who saw things as you do, that they were suddenly being treated unfairly.

        But its our artificial ordering of the natural world that is inadequate, artificial and constructed.

        There isn’t any reason to fetishize equality when it isn’t serving the cause of what we really want.

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        • Since the “law” is a device imposed upon society, there certainly IS a way to “delivers perfect equality of power and choice to men and women concerning reproduction”

          Both male and female must agree to have a child, before or during the pregnancy. If a woman becomes pregnant, and the male wants the child, the woman can veto the pregnancy by having an abortion or birth the child and give the child to the father to raise, no further responsibilities on her part.

          Same with the guy. That’s a nice middle ground. Everyone has rights and responsibilities.

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            • Perhaps you misunderstand or I wasn’t clear.

              If the guy doesn’t want the kid and the female does, he cannot force her to terminate, but has no financial obligation.

              “just”. I suggesting a change in the law. What does “justice” have to do with law?

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              • “If the guy doesn’t want the kid and the female does, he cannot force her to terminate, but has no financial obligation.”

                So, like most libertarians, you not only want 1890’s economic laws, but also 1890’s sexual mores, where men could have all the sex they want, but avoid the responsibility.

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