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Subject: Abortion, Conscience, and The Unavoidable Obstacle rss

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David Dixon
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I've been thinking a bit about politcal beliefs and where I tend to fit in (nowhere). I'd consider myself a centrist, although that usually tends to get me simultaneously pegged as an idiot liberal and a raging conservative, so I've got that going for me--which is nice.

Nothing seems to illustrate the difficulty I have in finding a home in the current US political discourse as my position on abortion (relative to my position on other things).

I am very much anti-abortion.

However, it is not based on religious beliefs, seeing as how I don't have any such beliefs to base anything on.

It comes, I think, from a certain perspective about where life begins.

If you believe that a fetus is not a person, there is no ethical or legal reason to oppose abortion, full stop.

If you believe otherwise, I can't see how there would be any way not to oppose it, full stop.

Basically, it boils down to this--I am unable to be sure where it begins, but I am unwilling to risk being wrong and accidentally condoning a practice which condemns an innocent to death.*

I can't accept the idea that a child in the womb isn't a child because it can't care for itself because the same thing could be said for my 7 month old, or for a parapalegic, mentally retarded child. I can't buy an argument that also inadvertently justifies infatacide and involuntary euthenasia.

I can't see how one woman can have a child early at six or seven months and the doctors and medical establishment work incredibly hard to save it but--somehow it wasn't a person.

I can't buy the libertarian argument that it's a woman's body and thus her decision and that if I don't want my wife to have an abortion, I shouldn't have her get one and that should be enough. From my perspective, one where the child is indeed a person, there's simply no way to just wave it off as someone else's decision--as a person, they have certain rights that cannot morally removed from them without their consent, which they obviously cannot give.

Because of this, I cannot support "a woman's right to an abortion" even though I understand where those who do are coming from--I just think they're wrong, and the logic I use to get there means I can't compromise without compromising some core part of my values, which is that killing outside of self-defense or wartime is wrong and ought to be illegal.

I've got no issue with contraception, nor abortion where medically necessary (as the weighing of the mother's versus her child's is a truly horrible decision but at some level is just the trolley problem in real life). While I belive in a perfect world we'd recognize that the child in the case of rape and incest is but another innocent victim and thus shouldn't be put to death, I also realize that in such a perfect world, we'd have no rape or incest to begin with--I understand the rationale for such abortions even if I don't want it to happen.

To me to be the reason this debate can never get anywhere. The underlying philosophical questions around the subject are so deeply held, so impossible to really definitively answer--because they're mainly philosophical in nature. I'm typically a big fan of compromise and pragmatism, but I can't see a whole lot of common ground. If I compromise, I become party to something I can't live with, and the other side sees it so fundamentally differently that we aren't even arguing from the same factual basis--the question is almost epistemological.

It isn't that I hate people on the opposite side of the debate, or think they're condoning murder, it's just I think the basis of their argument is so fundamentally wrong that there's nothing past that to debate.

Curious as to some thoughts on this one.

Diis

PS: I was going to make a request to keep the level of discourse more firmly on the philosophical and hypothetical--read mature--side of things, but there's really no point in such an ill-fated request is there?


*And yes, before anyone asks, this viewpoint is bringing me begrudgingly around to being anti-death penalty, even though I believe if properly applied, it is quite just.
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jeremy cobert
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Diis wrote:
*And yes, before anyone asks, this viewpoint is bringing me begrudgingly around to being anti-death penalty, even though I believe if properly applied, it is quite just.


abortion and capital punishment are two separate issues no matter what the moonbats claim. Punishing the guilty is not the same as terminating an innocent life. People who claim they are the same thing are just being intellectually dishonest.

I think that I support states rights and would let each one select their own laws. I also think the plan-B pill should be given over the counter. I also think that after 4 weeks, abortion is morally wrong based on the science we now have available that was not there during Roe v wade.
 
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Diis wrote:
Basically, it boils down to this--I am unable to be sure where it begins, but I am unwilling to risk being wrong and accidentally condoning a practice which condemns an innocent to death.*


It's certainly a case where hard definitions are completely unworkable, yet people will use them, and slide them about, to justify their beliefs. The difference between a life and a person, for example.

Even where life begins is not a question with a hard answer, but personhood (which I'd argue is far more important question here, for instance I would compare with how we treat the end of life) could be said to begin anywhere from early-toddler to when your grandparents met, depending on what you mean by it. Or even wider.
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David Dixon
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jeremycobert wrote:
Diis wrote:
*And yes, before anyone asks, this viewpoint is bringing me begrudgingly around to being anti-death penalty, even though I believe if properly applied, it is quite just.


abortion and capital punishment are two separate issues no matter what the moonbats claim. Punishing the guilty is not the same as terminating an innocent life. People who claim they are the same thing are just being intellectually dishonest.


You completely misunderstand my difficulty with the death penalty, which I thought was clear, but let me explain it more explicitly.

I have no issue punishing the guilty and some crimes are worth the death of the guilty party.

The issue is with its application--ie. how do we make sure we have the actual guilty party? Sometimes it's a lot clearer than others, but that's not the way the law works, exactly. And, of course, sometimes even when we think it's clear, it isn't.

Diis
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Diis wrote:
It comes, I think, from a certain perspective about where life begins.

If you believe that a fetus is not a person, there is no ethical or legal reason to oppose abortion, full stop.

If you believe otherwise, I can't see how there would be any way not to oppose it, full stop.

This makes sense to me, with the minor quibble that your first sentence there should have been "personhood" instead of "life."

I don't know where personhood begins either, but it's clear to me that a blob of a few cells isn't a person, and I'm willing to accept that a newborn is, which puts the line somewhere in between. 3 months? 6 months? I don't know, but somewhere in there, abortion is OK because you're not killing an innocent person.

And, in figuring out where that line should be, it also makes sense to me to err on the side of later rather than earlier, out of a vague sense that fewer kids is better than more kids; if you don't want a child, you really shouldn't have one, and the easier it is for people to not have kids, the better it is for all of us. Some people seem to think that pregnant women should be required to give birth as some punishment for getting pregnant in the first place, but to me that's stupid & wrong.
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There is actually a line of argument by Judith Jarvis Johnson which embraces the idea of abortion as actual killing, rather than hiding behind definitions about whether or not a fetus is a person.

Grant, for a moment, that abortion is killing a human being. Are there circumstances that justify that killing?

Ms. Johnson argues that a woman has the right to control what goes on with her own body, and that right trumps the right of the fetus to live, but not necessarily in all cases. Abortion to save the life of the mother, for instance, we generally grant as legitimate, but condemn the idea of abortion because it would be inconvenient.

The point that she is making is that in our culture, there are cases of 'moral killing' (or at least, less evil circumstances for killing), and pro-choice arguments would be more convincing if rather than dodge around the issue of abortion as medical killing, take a hard look at the issue with that as the starting point and work from there.

Darilian

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Ken
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Darilian wrote:
Grant, for a moment, that abortion is killing a human being.


Huh? That's sorta kinda the $64,000 question you're assuming an answer to there, isn't it?
 
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William Boykin
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Read the article and get back to me, Ken.

Darilian
 
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Darilian wrote:
Read the article and get back to me, Ken.


It's 21 pages, so maybe later. If your paraphrasing is accurate, why do I need to do that? She uses a different foundation to arrive at a conclusion. Color me shocked.
 
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Erik Henry
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Diis wrote:
Basically, it boils down to this--I am unable to be sure where it begins, but I am unwilling to risk being wrong and accidentally condoning a practice which condemns an innocent to death.

I see what you mean by "wrong" in the case of the death penalty, but can you explain what you mean in the case of abortion? As you say you're not appealing to a higher religious authority. Do you mean that there may be a definitive science answer to the question? . . . . You seem to make a big jump from "unable to be sure" to adamant.
 
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jeremycobert wrote:
I also think that after 4 weeks, abortion is morally wrong based on the science we now have available that was not there during Roe v wade.

Four weeks? What science is that? Most women won't even realize they are pregnant before 4 weeks.
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Personally, I hate attempts by people to win an argument by changing definitions in such a way that they win by default. I happen to agree with a lot of pro-life people that the issues about whether or not a fetus is a 'person' or not become increasingly scholastic- how much pain does a baby fetus feel when a thousand angels are dancing on the wedge of the argument to win by default?

That's why I like Ms. Johnson's argument- she's trying to find a moral basis for abortion while at the same time granting the pro-life position's biggest point; that abortion really is medical killing. Is there a moral argument in favor of abortion that grants that starting point?

I think Ms. Johnson brings a prima facie case in favor of that, which is why I think its interesting. There are a lot of rebuttals against her opinion out there- (Wikipedia has a good article on the subject- and they're all a lot better than just "well, a fetus isn't really a person so we don't need your argument".

But hey-
Don't want to read it, you don't want to read it. No blood, no foul.

Darilian
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Darilian wrote:
That's why I like Ms. Johnson's argument- she's trying to find a moral basis for abortion while at the same time granting the pro-life position's biggest point; that abortion really is medical killing. Is there a moral argument in favor of abortion that grants that starting point?


It really shouldn't matter to the moral point either way, just to how the moral point is expressed.

Whether abortion is medical killing of a human being or not is a question whose answer depends only on the definitions of words. Definitions of words shouldn't change the morality of the situation, as that's to do with the meaning behind the words. Of course, it changes how the morality might be written down or spoken, but that's just communication.

Granting that 'abortion really is medical killing' isn't a starting assumption for an argument, unless you give those terms moral weight, it's just checking you are all using the same language. If you do give them moral weight, then you've skipped the argument altogether.

This is exactly the same problem with a 'the featus isn't a person' argument too.
 
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Darilian wrote:
There is actually a line of argument by Judith Jarvis Johnson which embraces the idea of abortion as actual killing, rather than hiding behind definitions about whether or not a fetus is a person.

Grant, for a moment, that abortion is killing a human being. Are there circumstances that justify that killing?

Ms. Johnson argues that a woman has the right to control what goes on with her own body, and that right trumps the right of the fetus to live, but not necessarily in all cases. Abortion to save the life of the mother, for instance, we generally grant as legitimate, but condemn the idea of abortion because it would be inconvenient.

The point that she is making is that in our culture, there are cases of 'moral killing' (or at least, less evil circumstances for killing), and pro-choice arguments would be more convincing if rather than dodge around the issue of abortion as medical killing, take a hard look at the issue with that as the starting point and work from there.

Darilian



Really interesting article, Dar. A Minimally Decent Samaritan. It really cemented a lot of the issues I have with the standard when does life begin arguments.
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jmilum wrote:
Four weeks? What science is that? Most women won't even realize they are pregnant before 4 weeks.


It's Broscience. I figure this. An embryo’s heart begins to beat between 18-24 days after conception and an embryo’s brain waves can be detected six weeks after conception. I split the difference from 2.5 weeks to 6 weeks and settled on 4 weeks.

 
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Diis wrote:

I can't accept the idea that a child in the womb isn't a child because it can't care for itself because the same thing could be said for my 7 month old, or for a parapalegic, mentally retarded child.


That's an imperfect analogy, though, because another person can care for your 7-month old or for the paraplegic. However, for a fetus before viability, they're dependent on one particular human. (And, based on a quick scan that seems to be the core of the article Dar linked to).

(Thirteen posts in, and the level of discourse is still respectful.)
 
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b a n j o wrote:
Without lungs, the fetus cannot be sustained outside of the womb.


Without food and clothing a 24 month old cant sustain life either. I'm not sure you have point.

Then again, without parents, most of the 24 year olds in RSP cant sustain life either.
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Diis wrote:
It comes, I think, from a certain perspective about where life begins.

If you believe that a fetus is not a person, there is no ethical or legal reason to oppose abortion, full stop.

If you believe otherwise, I can't see how there would be any way not to oppose it, full stop.


I believe that basic bodily autonomy is a fundamental right. If you were attached to me by a machine that let you take sustenance from me and the only way for you to stay alive would be for me to stay hooked up to the machine, I do not believe you have any right to demand that I stay hooked up -- nor do I think the State can legitimately compel me to.

A pre-viability fetus can only survive in a (biologically) parasitic relationship with the mother. I use that word reluctantly because I don't mean to say that a fetus is a parasite in a negative sense only in the literal sense that it must use the mother's body to live. This is, when wanted, a wonderful thing. It is not, however, something I believe the State can legitimately force someone to continue.

Thus, while I do not believe that the embryo/fetus is a person when the vast majority of abortions take place (that is, while it is human and alive it does not have brain function necessary for moral personhood) I would support legal abortion even if I thought otherwise.

Quote:
Basically, it boils down to this--I am unable to be sure where it begins, but I am unwilling to risk being wrong and accidentally condoning a practice which condemns an innocent to death.*


I don't mean this to be insulting, but I think this is a very lazy argument. A HeLa culture has unique DNA and is living human cells. If full personhood begins the moment sperm meets egg then why do you not support massive research efforts into reducing the incalculable loss in human life due to failure to implant? Roughly 50% of fertilized eggs fail to come to term; if life begins at conception then this is the moral equivalence of an infant mortality rate of 50% -- one death for every person who has ever lived.
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b a n j o wrote:
jeremycobert wrote:
I also think that after 4 weeks, abortion is morally wrong based on the science we now have available that was not there during Roe v wade.


Lungs develop at the end of the second trimester. Without lungs, the fetus cannot be sustained outside of the womb.


..and before surfactant therapy was invented in 1980, even a 34-week old fetus might not survive.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
Roughly 50% of fertilized eggs fail to come to term;


More like 75%, I think.
 
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kuhrusty wrote:
Diis wrote:
It comes, I think, from a certain perspective about where life begins.

If you believe that a fetus is not a person, there is no ethical or legal reason to oppose abortion, full stop.

If you believe otherwise, I can't see how there would be any way not to oppose it, full stop.

This makes sense to me, with the minor quibble that your first sentence there should have been "personhood" instead of "life."

I don't know where personhood begins either, but it's clear to me that a blob of a few cells isn't a person, and I'm willing to accept that a newborn is, which puts the line somewhere in between. 3 months? 6 months? I don't know, but somewhere in there, abortion is OK because you're not killing an innocent person.

And, in figuring out where that line should be, it also makes sense to me to err on the side of later rather than earlier, out of a vague sense that fewer kids is better than more kids; if you don't want a child, you really shouldn't have one, and the easier it is for people to not have kids, the better it is for all of us. Some people seem to think that pregnant women should be required to give birth as some punishment for getting pregnant in the first place, but to me that's stupid & wrong.


I think you're right, I should have used the term "personhood" although definining that, as you and others point out, is just as thorny.

I too, I suppose, also intuit that a few cells does not a person make. Which means, morally, I'm okay with the morning after pill, etc.

Diis
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b a n j o wrote:
jeremycobert wrote:
b a n j o wrote:
Without lungs, the fetus cannot be sustained outside of the womb.


Without food and clothing a 24 month old cant sustain life either. I'm not sure you have point.

Then again, without parents, most of the 24 year olds in RSP cant sustain life either.


You can provide food and clothing to a 24 month old. You cannot provide oxygen to a fetus, outside of the womb, that doesn't have lungs.


The viability argument is a good one, and one that I like, but this concept of viability keeps sliding around as science advances (as others point out below your post).

Can we have a breakthrough one day that makes something that was a moral killing yesterday immoral today?

I'm not sure I buy the "if you need one specific person to keep you alive you aren't actually a person argument" that some others make in this area, though.

To borrow a page from philosophy, if I can create a situation where I'm dependent on one person--say we are stuck somewhere remote and I need the only person medically trained enough to administer my treatment to keep me alive. Do I give up my personhood? Can I be shot dead without consequence?

Diis
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Chad_Ellis wrote:


I believe that basic bodily autonomy is a fundamental right.


I'm generally in agreement here, but in this case, I think that's where contraception comes in.

Quote:

Quote:
Basically, it boils down to this--I am unable to be sure where it begins, but I am unwilling to risk being wrong and accidentally condoning a practice which condemns an innocent to death.*


I don't mean this to be insulting, but I think this is a very lazy argument. A HeLa culture has unique DNA and is living human cells. If full personhood begins the moment sperm meets egg then why do you not support massive research efforts into reducing the incalculable loss in human life due to failure to implant? Roughly 50% of fertilized eggs fail to come to term; if life begins at conception then this is the moral equivalence of an infant mortality rate of 50% -- one death for every person who has ever lived.

[/q]

No offense taken--you're demanding intellectual rigor, which I respect. I phrased it poorly, I think, and as I said earlier, I do get the idea that life does not begin at conception exactly, but it's somewhere after that that I get fuzzy and because I am fuzzy on a point that to me is literally someone else's life, I will err on the side of caution.

As far as supporting research to aid implanting, I never said I was against such things or for them (didn't know they existed, to tell the truth). I would support such science, but to me the issues aren't quite the same, one is natural and the other is caused by human intervention.

Much the same way as we tend to look at someone differently whose brakes failed and killed a person as someone who intentionally ran over someone. The result may be the same--death--but the manner is very different.

Diis

PS: I am not implying moral equivalency between people who have or perform abortions and people who murder people with cars, it's just the best analogy I could come up with at the moment.
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tmcvey wrote:
Chad_Ellis wrote:
Roughly 50% of fertilized eggs fail to come to term;


More like 75%, I think.


That's generally the number quoted for spontaneous abortions, yes. With the caveat that it's probably much higher, it just gets very difficult to tell - as noted up-thread, generally women aren't even going to know they are pregnant for four weeks.

jeremycobert wrote:
jmilum wrote:
Four weeks? What science is that? Most women won't even realize they are pregnant before 4 weeks.


It's Broscience. I figure this. An embryo’s heart begins to beat between 18-24 days after conception and an embryo’s brain waves can be detected six weeks after conception. I split the difference from 2.5 weeks to 6 weeks and settled on 4 weeks.



I'm not sure why you are 'splitting a difference', there? Surely, the very bare MINIMUM standard of human life is discernible brain waves - anything before that and there is plainly nothing conscious at all.

In any case - quick show of hands as to who is surprised that Jeremy is repeating factually incorrect conservative talking points, verbatim, without checking any sources?
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b a n j o wrote:
You can provide food and clothing to a 24 month old. You cannot provide oxygen to a fetus, outside of the womb, that doesn't have lungs.


You can transplant it into a another woman and it continues to grow. I think we both agree that this is a life, it will eventually in all probability become a human. I merely argue from a point of allowing abortion when we still think the living organism is not yet self aware. I think this is more humane.
 
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