Friday, 9 July 2010

Abortion Law Reform: Keeping the arguments straight

Cross posted

It's important to keep two lines of discussion, or two moral issues, separate when we are talking about Steve Chadwick's proposed abortion law reform bill.

The first issue is the morality of abortion itself. Do you think that abortion is morally permissible, or morally impermissible?

I think that abortion is morally permissible, for reasons that I have set out at length in these posts: why I think abortion is morally permissible and follow-up posts More on abortion: the infanticide objection, More on abortion: the female foeticide issue, and More on abortion: what about disabilities?. Even aside from the morality of abortion, I think that it should be permitted, because the alternative is ghastly.

The second moral issue is the extent to which it is permissible to force other people to adhere to your own moral standards. Is it right for you to tell everyone else how they should live, what relationships they should enter into, what actions they should or should not take?

In general, in Western liberal democracies, we don't believe in the state telling people how to live. There are no laws requiring us to get married, to live in certain places, to go to particular churches. The standard response to the idea of more state restriction is to decry it as nanny-statism, or the majority imposing its will on the minority. We do have quite a few laws to co-ordinate our activities, and laws about who may access which resources, and laws about how to pay for state resources. We also have a lot of laws aimed at protecting individuals, both from the power of the state, and from each other. I don't think all of these laws are good laws by any means (for example, I think that the law around civil unions is deeply flawed), but as a work-in-progress, by and large the laws do a not too bad job of creating freedom for us. We have some laws that coerce behaviour - famously, laws that require children to be educated. I see this as freedom enhancing: it is very difficult for anyone to function effectively in contemporary society without having a basic education. But for the most part, we don't prescribe morality through our laws. Those who want the law to prescribe morality need to make a very strong case.

So... how does this apply to abortion? At first glance, the answer is obvious. My body, my understanding of the moral issue, my decision. Don't impose your morality on me.

But there's an objection to this answer. Prosaic puts it this way:

It seems necessary to point out to you that most of our laws–and all of the laws in the Crimes Act–are there to control people because we don’t trust them to make their own moral choices eg, the law against murder–do you have a similar problem with this law? If we followed your argument we would have no laws against anything and your neighbour would be free to choose to make her “own moral decision” and kill you.


She or he has got a point. If we go down the line of argument that I advocate, we end up with extreme moral relativism, where we can't make moral judgements about anything. Or even if we can make moral judgements, we can't make laws that reflect those moral judgements.

Except I think we can. We can make laws in cases where our moral judgements are backed up by reason and evidence, and the reasoning and evidence has been subject to rigorous scrutiny. The evidence stacks up, the logic stacks up, the outcomes stack up, all providing solid foundations for the law.

As it turns out, as a society we have made a strong case for prescribing morality in respect of some issues. For example, we think that rape and murder and assault and theft are wrong, and we prosecute people accordingly. There is near universal agreement on these issues. We might disagree about what constitutes rape and murder and assault and theft, but we agree that rape and murder and assault and theft are crimes. Moreover, we have strong reasons for agreeing that these are crimes, reasons to do with the wrongness of taking human being's lives, and hurting human being's bodies, and invading someone's personal space, and so on.

But there is no widespread agreement about abortion. Some people argue that abortion is wrong, but many, many more argue that it is morally permissible. Some people try to bring abortion in under the heading of murder, or wrongful killing, or some such thing, but in order to do that, they need to show that a conceptus, an embryo, or a fetus (depending on the stage of development) has exactly the same moral standing as other human beings. Giving exactly the same moral standing to a newly fertilised egg and an adult human being seems implausible at best, unless you start grasping for concepts like souls. Once you do that, you're into the territory of religion, and it's very clear that not all religions agree on the issue of abortion. So the person who wants to ban abortion on religious grounds needs to provide some compelling arguments as to why her or his religion is the correct one.

The burden of proof on those who oppose abortion is high. They need to be able to give cogent reasons for the moral impermissibility of abortion and they need to be able to show why they think that their own moral standards should be embodied in the law. If they can't make a good argument for the second issue, then in good conscience, they ought to support, or at least not oppose, Steve Chadwick's abortion law reform bill.

74 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's important to keep two lines of discussion, or two moral issues, separate
Its even more important, when having an objective conversation on abortion, to ignore bloggers on this blog and fundamentalist Catholics who could not possible be objective. This post is just waffly bullshit.

Julie said...

Anon, I am intrigued. How does one ignore this blog and comment on it at the same time?

Great post Deborah, thank you.

McFlock said...

tsk, that's the problem with the abortion debate: somebody takes the time to summarise both perspectives as objectively as they can, and then somebody "refutes" it with a categorical and insulting statement - offering nothing factual or even logical themselves.


I'd just like the thank Deborah and the other posters here at THM for having the courage to put so much work into fundamentally important issue. Despite the abusive responses this issue in particular attracts.

Anonymous said...

Just a simple FYI Catholics aren't "fundamentalists". Fundamentalists are often Evangelicals and they would definitely struggle with basic Catholic theology.

It's perhaps not a big distinction to those outside Christianity, but I think it's important because the term "fundamentalist" has become a pejorative when in fact it is a description of a certain theology.

Re: forcing one's moral stance on others, we do this all the time. Serial killers (extreme example) are morally comfortable with murder, or burglars are morally comfortable with stealing - yet we decide as a society that this is morally unacceptable and we prohibit and punish the behaviour.

Because I see personhood as beginning with the conception of a new human, I see their protection as a vital right. Just as I would not stand by and refuse to impose my moral stance on a serial killer or burglar, the same goes for protecting persons who are not yet born.

Does this affect a woman's right to her own body? Yes, I won't doll it up, there are consequences for the mother. But I think killing a person is worse than forced pregnancy (with the caveat of women who need medical help to save their lives and the procedures end the life of the child as a secondary effect, eg. chemo or dealing with an ectopic pregnancy).

Disagree with me by all means, but don't pretend I should idly stand by and shrug my shoulders when a mother terminates her child because I can't. Likewise I wouldn't stand by and watch someone commit suicide or hurt someone else.

And another thing, is it right to have a society that makes having a crisis pregnancy hard? Shouldn't employers be supportive, shouldn't medical care be affordable? Shouldn't women be given every opportunity to help support a child into their adulthood?

How many babies would be kept if we had liveable welfare benefits and quality housing?

It isn't a "choice" when the choice is having a baby and being unable to support them or aborting.

Muerk

Andy Moore said...

the burden of proof is on abortion advocates Deborah.

If someone wants to end the life of an embryo or foetus, they first must prove that the embryo or foetus is not on the same moral standing as a human who has been born, or is not "a valuable life".

Deborah said...

The burden of proof is on those who want something banned. That's a basic premise in a liberal democratic society.

Margaret said...

You make so many assumptions Deborah its not funny. Essentially we do not live in a liberal democracy, you only need to look at the size of our law books to work that one out.

Secondly, I don't understand how you can marry that thinking in with democracy. If the majority were to deem that abortion should be stopped but they failed to meet your burden of proof then accordingly the minority in the liberal democracy should get there own way? The minority which could be only 1 or 2% if we were to think hypothetically.

Andy Moore said...

No. If you're out deer-hunting, it's your duty to ascertain before you fire that you are aiming at a deer and not a human.

McFlock said...

Just for you, Andy.
Why abortion is not analagous to deer hunting:

(legislation.govt.nz)
Arms Act 1983 No 44 (as at 01 October 2008), Public Act

S53 Careless use of firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon
(1) Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding $4,000 or to both who causes bodily injury to or the death of any person by carelessly using a firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon.


So to make the point bleeding obvious, firing a bullet at an unidentified target and thereby killing somebody is EXPLICITLY BANNED. By an act of parliament. Which doesn't mention "moral". Because the law is not in the business of kowtowing to your religious opinion.

Deborah said...

It is simplistic and ignorant to equate democracy with majoritarianism. Western liberal democracies are a complicated interweaving of voting, rule of law, parliamentary systems, protest and dissent, select committees, oppositions, layers of government, and so on. In a standard Wesern liberal democracy, there are usually protections against the tyranny of the majority, and against the (potential) tyranny of the state. For example, in Western liberal democracies, we typically assume that the state ought not to interfere with individual's private decision making. That's why those who want to interfere with individual's private decision making need to show a strong case for doing so.

It is also simplistic and ignorant to equate liberalism and libertarianism. Libertarians typically argue for less laws and less government in order to enhance freedom as non-interference: liberals typically aim for a richer account of the good life, often encompassing some notion of autonomy of individuals. The number of laws in a liberal democracy is meaningless, but the quality of those laws is very important.

I suggest you spend little time reading some political theory before waltzing in here and telling me that I don't understand how liberal democracies work. I recommend Contemporary Political Theory by Will Kymlicka.

Andy Moore said...

Exactly McFlock - the burden of proof is on those advocating killing foetuses to prove that it is acceptable. And what's religious opinion got to do with anything?

Anne said...

"what's religious opinion got to do with anything?" - it's what your ridiculous argument is based on.

"And another thing, is it right to have a society that makes having a crisis pregnancy hard? Shouldn't employers be supportive, shouldn't medical care be affordable? Shouldn't women be given every opportunity to help support a child into their adulthood?
How many babies would be kept if we had liveable welfare benefits and quality housing?"

- Who is suggesting we not have these things? Pro choice women on this blog and elsewhere are constantly talking about ways to help women in all aspects of their lives. The difference I suppose between them and anti-choicers is that they don't want women to die or be maimed in illegal abortions. You say you wouldn't stand by and watch someone commit suicide or hurt someone else - yet you'd support by default women bleeding to death or dying from infection after unsafe abortions. Will you supply the coathangers for the women who will do it at home because they can't afford to pay the fees to "doctors"? Don't offer yourself up as some moral person when that's what you're advocating.

And I would definitely say that viewpoint is a fundamentalist viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

"In humans, it has been estimated that between 30% and 70% of conceptuses are lost before or at the time of implantation, without women being aware that they were pregnant." http://publish.uwo.ca/~kennedyt/t108.pdf

If there is a moral imperative to protect the life of gametes, as anti-abortionists claim, why don't they agitate for massive research into embryo implantation? By their logic, this must be the greatest tragedy in human history, with about half of all humans being flushed down the toilet.

I think anti-abortionists don't do this because they aren't really interested in logic, and they don't really believe life begins at conception. This is just a convenient argument that is more respectable than their true beliefs, which are oppressive. The last thing they would want is to be forced to really take theirs argument seriously, and treat embryo implantation as the greatest moral issue faced by the human race.

- Vibenna

McFlock said...

Andy,

You seem to miss the point that to ban something the burden of proof is on those who wish to ban it.

You claimed a duty to identify the target as a deer, not as a person. This is a duty imposed by law. To pass this law it's proponents needed to establish proof that it was a Bad Thing (tm) to recklessly discharge firearms, and different to culpable homicide.

The current abortion law is the product of the more conservative times in which it was generated, and the outright ban it replaced was the product of even more conservative times. The moral superiority of the embryo over the mothers mental and physical well-being was an assumption that few people thought needed to be proved when the choice was made to ban abortions. The proposed bill gives you the chance to actually prove equivalence or superiority, and if you can't - well, there's no reason to restrict abortions then, is there?

Quite frankly there is no good reason to assume that the woman is not in the best situation to make the choice on a specific abortion.

Oh - and religious opinion doesn't have anything to do with it. The fact that very religious folk and the more active anti-abortionists are frequently the same people is purely coincidental.

Anonymous said...

I think you ask two really valid questions.

"yet you'd support by default women bleeding to death or dying from infection after unsafe abortions."

No, I really would not want women to try to abort unsafely. Which is why I would propose that women with a crisis pregnancy be given as much free counselling and support (emotional, financial etc.) so that they could genuinely make it through the pregnancy.

As I said, I am aware I am saying that women should be forced to be pregnant - I acknowledge that and I accept that for some women it really will be an extremely difficult thing to do. But I think the termination of a person is worse.

"If there is a moral imperative to protect the life of gametes, as anti-abortionists claim, why don't they agitate for massive research into embryo implantation?"

Gametes are ovum and sperm, neither of which is a person. However if two gametes are fused then a human person is created - a zygote lasts for about four days, then becomes a blastocyte on the fifth, then an embryo, then a foetus.

A human being begins at the point of his or her creation when a unique genetic pattern is brought about by the fusing of two gametes. At the point the human person begins to grow.

Given the complexity of such a process, yes there is huge loss of life. All miscarriages are a loss. Because personhood begins at the beginning so to speak (I don't think one attains it later because I think it is inherent in our humanity), I completely disagree with certain reproductive technologies, for example IVF. For a start so many embryos are terminated and then many are stored.

Muerk

Anonymous said...

"and religious opinion doesn't have anything to do with it."

This is something I completely agree with.

I think that our personhood and humanity are inherent in each other and begin at our conception. Personhood isn't something we acquire as a result of some development or status (eg. being born), it is with us always.

This is something that is rationally arguable and not based on religious faith. I was pro-life far before I was religious because I could see the humanity of those where were not yet born.

Muerk

Deborah said...

It's a very impoverished definition of personhood, based entirely on the physical construct of DNA. You need to say why one set of DNA is important and valuable, and another not. I call "personhood" as a weaselword: given how much you are relying on it in respect of your argument, you're importing something over and above DNA into the notion of "personhood".

You should be upfront and declare what it is. Even then, you still have to say why your construct of personhood is so compelling, so backed up by evidence and reason, that it ought to form the basis of law.

Anonymous said...

"It's a very impoverished definition of personhood, based entirely on the physical construct of DNA. You need to say why one set of DNA is important and valuable, and another not."

Hmmm... that's fair. We begin as a separate human once our own DNA is created as a zygote. Our humanness begins then and our personhood and our humanity are inherent to one another since one can't be human and not a person. (I think viewing human beings as non-persons to be wrong.)

A zygote is human because if not human, then what? It's not part of the mother's body since it has individual DNA, the zygote has a sex and different genetic traits to the mother, thus it is not her, but another human being albeit very young and developing. Humans can be conceived outside of their mother and develop to embryonic form outside of the womb. Clearly they are individual and separate from the mother's self.

All human persons are worthy of life, even those developing inside their mother, because of their individuality as Homo sapiens.

The unborn (zygotes, blastocytes, embryos and foetuses) are human, all humans are persons, therefore the unborn are persons.

Muerk

Trouble said...

What's so special about homo sapiens, though? There are two options for answering that - our special place in god's universe, or our capacity for suffering, empathy and reason. There are many animals with greater capacity for empathy, suffering and intelligence if not reason than your average human embryo. And they're deserving of protection, although there are many arguments as to how far that protection should extend.

Anonymous said...

Trouble -

You're right, I do see Homo sapiens in a theological way - we are made in the image of God. To put it another way, we have the capacity to make moral decisions and to create abstractly. We make art, we pray, we create courts of law and write books for example.

Part of what we are as a species are these abilities. I certainly don't deny that other animals can be similar in certain ways, but we could never place a chimp or a dolphin in a witness stand and prosecute them for murder even though they will occasionally kill their own kind.

And yes, there are members of our species who are less able than other animals when it comes to certain behaviours. Babies are less able than adult orang-utans, severely intellectually disabled people are less able than elephants for example.

Yet we don't treat babies or the intellectually handicapped as animals. Our society acts as though humans (even ones with diminished capacity) have an inherent dignity. Killing a severely intellectually handicapped person is prosecuted as murder. Poachers who kill gorillas are not prosecuted for murder despite the fact that the gorilla is more capable.

You may disagree with what I have said, but I do think it is an unspoken social norm that we give humans a dignity that we don't ascribe to animals. If we as a society want to change that, then that is a much wider discussion than just abortion.

Muerk

Deborah said...

Which god, Muerk?

Anonymous said...

Well I'm coming from a Abrahamic conception of God as Creator, and I'm happy to own that. So that covers the belief system of Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha'is - so just over half the world's population. This is what our society is historically based on too.

Even those people who do not hold an Abrahamic conception of the Divine can be anti-abortion, Ghandi, a Hindu, for example was against abortion and birth-control. Buddhists traditionally believe that life begins at conception as well, some regard abortion as murder, some as a killing - a negative that may be acceptable due to circumstance.

I know devout Christians who are happy with abortion and I know atheists who are against it. I can only speak about _my_ thought processes and how my reasoning intersects with my faith, but I do believe that any arguments against abortion must be able to stand on reason alone.

Thus my points about our abilities to think abstractly and how we differ from other animals is not based on faith but on observation.

Anonymous said...

Oops - that last post was me, Muerk. Sorry about forgetting to put my name on there.

Deborah said...

That's nice that you believe in the god of the christians. Whatever, really. It does mean however, that in addition to arguing for your own take on the morality of abortion, you also have to mount a case for why your own religious views should be reflected in the law. Why should your view of morality override other people's?

Of course, no one requires you to have an abortion. However, given that your views are based on your religion, it seems at best unreasonable for you to insist that other people don't get to make a choice about a highly personal matter i.e. abortion.

The point of this post is not the morality of abortion per se, 'although obviously that's important, but the morality of imposing your own beliefs on other adult human beings, who are entirely capable of making up their own minds about moral issues.

Anonymous said...

"No, I really would not want women to try to abort unsafely. Which is why I would propose that women with a crisis pregnancy be given as much free counselling and support (emotional, financial etc.) so that they could genuinely make it through the pregnancy."

Women will always have abortions. Whether we have a good social welfare system or not. Your idealogy is getting in the way of how the world works. No amount of free counselling and financial support is going to stop some women from having abortions. They will have illegal and unsafe abortions and most will either die or be severely injured. And that blood will be on the hands of people like you. If you're prepared to own that then that's fine.

*Also should these laws be overturned and abortion banned the Govt will not front up with free counselling and financial assistance to women. And I think you know that.

Monique said...

I have a reasonably shaky pro-choice acceptance of abortions. In every country where abortions are banned women are treated as incubators with less rights than men. They are put in situations leading to death at their own hands or others, whether due to stonings self induced abortions etc etc. Therefore I can accept it is morally acceptable that abortion is available as a right. I totally uphold the right to medical terminations due to health of the foetus or mother. The well-being of children who come afterwards are also to be considered. However I also firmly believe that women don't have as much choice as they think they have. It's easy to get channeled along with the prevailing sentiment of the day. Where's the freedom in that?

Monique said...

Didn't mean to sound sanctimonious. Also I can't wave the fly-spray around without half an hour of internal debate on my rights vs the fly, so to be honest that's where I come from.

Anonymous said...

"Why should your view of morality override other people's?"

Well I have given my arguments based on reason rather than faith, although I have openly acknowledged my faith as well. As I said, I know atheists who are pro-life.

I don't ask that my religious beliefs be privaledged over anyone else's but that people examine my rational arguments about the humanity of the unborn.

I think focusing on my religion is a straw man given I'm not asking anyone to believe in God or any other theological argument.

I think my moral position should override your moral position because your moral position involves human beings being killed. I think killing human beings is wrong, even when it means that some women may be in the awful position of being forced to carry a child until viability.

Muerk

Alison said...

Muerk;
I think my moral position should override your moral position because your moral position involves human beings being killed.

No. You *believe* a pro-choice position involves human beings being killed. I do not agree with that assessment, because I do not agree that an embryo or fetus are human beings and even if I did, I could rationally argue that the rights of the fetus should not *override* the rights of a woman.

I don't dispute the rationality of the assertion that humanity begins at conception. I perfectly understand the logic behind it, but I don't think that it is the *only* rational conclusion on the matter. Therein lies the problem - there is simply no consensus. Rational people can rationally argue for various points in (or after) pregnancy to be the point at which humanity is achieved. Because there is no consensus, because pregnancy places demands on a woman that no other person could be forced to undergo for another human, and because there is absolutely *no way to prove* when humanity begins, I believe it must be left to women, and those they choose to involve in their decision, to make their own decisions about the ethics of abortion in any given situation.

Although I hope never to be in the position of making a decision for myself about whether to have a termination, I trust that I have the moral agency to make that decision if it is required, and to face up to whatever consequences that decision entails, *if* it entails any. I'm deeply troubled by the assumption that any woman who undergoes a termination has made an immoral or unethical decision. It's simplistic in the extreme to suggest that there is only one moral outcome to an unplanned pregnancy, when we freely recognise that life is full with dilemmas in which different and competing ethical and moral principles must be balanced against one another.

Unplanned pregnancy is no exception; forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will has effects on her, her family, and the wider society, and assuming that the termination of a pregnancy is always the immoral outcome totally ignores the ethical complexity of such a situation, and the rippling effects of forcing all women to continue all pregnancies that may occur.

Deborah said...

Well said, Alison. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"I don't dispute the rationality of the assertion that humanity begins at conception. I perfectly understand the logic behind it, but I don't think that it is the *only* rational conclusion on the matter."

I agree with you here. There are other conclusions that are made with good faith and rational thought. We disagree with each other, but I can see the logic of wanting a woman to have agency over her body at the expense of an embryo/foetus.

I disagree with your rational conclusions because I can't accept the willed death of the foetus. There are always complexities and effects for our choices.

Out of interest how far does your view of bodily autonomy extend? What is your view about substance abuse, euthanasia/suicide, and self mutilation? Are these cases where likewise a person's moral agency is paramount? I know this is much wider question, but I was curious.

Muerk

Deborah said...

It's a red herring, Alison. I wouldn't bother responding, especially with the casual conflation of several issues.

Anonymous said...

Actually it wasn't a red herring, just a question. I realise it drifted off topic by being a much wider question and I said so.

Muerk

Alison said...

All I would say Muerk is that you mistake me if you think I'm arguing purely for bodily autonomy above all other ethical principles. I am arguing, as is Deborah in her post I think, that *moral autonomy* is essential in abortion law because of the complete lack of moral consensus. I'm arguing for recognition that without consensus, no way of proving or disproving any particular viewpoint (because "human being" is not a universally understood term) that individuals must have the right to make their own assessment of a situation as it applies to them, and their beliefs, integrating all their own ethical priorities into their decision as they see fit.

Anonymous said...

Alison - I wasn't sure if you were arguing for total bodily autonomy or not, thanks for clearing that up for me.

Muerk

Anonymous said...

Deborah (and Alison perhaps) think this (abortion) debate is about "the morality of imposing your own beliefs on other adult human beings, who are entirely capable of making up their own minds about moral issues." We do this all the time for god's sake!! And think it is perfectly justifiable! Again, I cite laws against murder, assualt, etc. Democracy is all, essentially, about imposing the beliefs of the majority on the minority. It's all very well that you have read Kymlicka, Deborah, but how much other political philosophy have you read? The whole reason democracy is probably the 'right' political system (as opposed to tyranny) is that we accept that we all have a right to our own judgements and personal beliefs (as you argue with respect to a woman's right to choose) and we also accept that we disagree. No matter how much education and evidence and debate and so on, we all still disagree. Yet we have to get on, so we bring in laws, by majority vote. Eg, 'You might think it's ok to keep all of your income for yourself but we think it isn't so we are going to bring in income tax laws'. We don't leave things up to the individual to make their own choices! Unless that choice doesn't harm anyone else. So we don't legislate against growing a beard, to address an example someone brought up on that other blog--because it just doesn't matter, it doesn't harm anyone, it's not a moral issue (to be continued...)

Anonymous said...

...Something else that needs clarifying in this debate is the issue of liberty. Liberty does not mean, I should be able to make my own choices about whatever I do. It means that, BUT--as long as it doesn't harm others or impinge on their liberty. Therefore we have laws against murder and assault and infanticide and so on. These laws protect people and protect life. A pro-choice argument that says that a woman has the moral right to choose what she does with her body always has to take account of any harm caused by what she chooses to do with her body. She does not have the right to choose to place her fist in the face of someone else with great force. That harms someone, it's illegal, it's assault. So maybe, just maybe, she doesn't have the right to choose to kill the fetus inside her--afterall, that is a harm that personal liberty may not override. Maybe killing that fetus does not cause anyone any harm. I would argue that it causes that fetus a lot of harm. Maybe we don't care sufficiently about that fetus (because it's not a person, etc) so don't care about the harm caused to it. But then again, maybe we do care-even just a little--about that fetus. If so, pro-choicers' arguments need to go a lot deeper than the 'woman's choice' thing. We could either argue that the woman's choice outweighs the fetus's right to life (a utilitarian argument). So, go ahead, argue it if you can.

Or, you can argue that a fetus should not be protected by the same rights we give people, 'a fetus is not a person', etc. Maybe a fetus is not a person so does not, in virtue of not being a person, have a right to life. But hey, maybe things OTHER than people have a right to life--non-human animals, for instance. Flies, maybe. And maybe fetuses also have a right to life. Sure, they may not be 'people', but maybe they nonetheless have a right to life. Certainly most of us agree that a newborn and a 30 week fetus should each have a right to protection from abortion (a right to life)--so where is the difference? Maybe zygotes should have a right to life too. Afterall, leave them alone for a few months and they have become a person too.

Arguments about choice and individual freedom don't work unless you can show either that a woman's interests outweigh the interests of the fetus or that a fetus doesn't have any 'interests'.

And it's all very well to say that the burden of proof lies on those trying to ban abortion but everyone should be able to articulate a justification for the moral stance that they take. Refusing to do so is dogmatic.

Prosaic.

Anonymous said...

...Something else that needs clarifying in this debate is the issue of liberty. Liberty does not mean, I should be able to make my own choices about whatever I do. It means that, BUT--as long as it doesn't harm others or impinge on their liberty. Therefore we have laws against murder and assault and infanticide and so on. These laws protect people and protect life. A pro-choice argument that says that a woman has the moral right to choose what she does with her body always has to take account of any harm caused by what she chooses to do with her body. She does not have the right to choose to place her fist in the face of someone else with great force. That harms someone, it's illegal, it's assault. So maybe, just maybe, she doesn't have the right to choose to kill the fetus inside her--afterall, that is a harm that personal liberty may not override. Maybe killing that fetus does not cause anyone any harm. I would argue that it causes that fetus a lot of harm. Maybe we don't care sufficiently about that fetus (because it's not a person, etc) so don't care about the harm caused to it. But then again, maybe we do care-even just a little--about that fetus. If so, pro-choicers' arguments need to go a lot deeper than the 'woman's choice' thing. We could either argue that the woman's choice outweighs the fetus's right to life (a utilitarian argument). So, go ahead, argue it if you can.

Or, you can argue that a fetus should not be protected by the same rights we give people, 'a fetus is not a person', etc. Maybe a fetus is not a person so does not, in virtue of not being a person, have a right to life. But hey, maybe things OTHER than people have a right to life--non-human animals, for instance. Flies, maybe. And maybe fetuses also have a right to life. Sure, they may not be 'people', but maybe they nonetheless have a right to life. Certainly most of us agree that a newborn and a 30 week fetus should each have a right to protection from abortion (a right to life)--so where is the difference? Maybe zygotes should have a right to life too. Afterall, leave them alone for a few months and they have become a person too.

Arguments about choice and individual freedom don't work unless you can show either that a woman's interests outweigh the interests of the fetus or that a fetus doesn't have any 'interests'.

And it's all very well to say that the burden of proof lies on those trying to ban abortion but everyone should be able to articulate a justification for the moral stance that they take. Refusing to do so is dogmatic.

Prosaic.

Anonymous said...

...Something else that needs clarifying in this debate is the issue of liberty. Liberty does not mean, I should be able to make my own choices about whatever I do. It means that, BUT--as long as it doesn't harm others or impinge on their liberty. Therefore we have laws against murder and assault and infanticide and so on. These laws protect people and protect life. A pro-choice argument that says that a woman has the moral right to choose what she does with her body always has to take account of any harm caused by what she chooses to do with her body. She does not have the right to choose to place her fist in the face of someone else with great force. That harms someone, it's illegal, it's assault. So maybe, just maybe, she doesn't have the right to choose to kill the fetus inside her--afterall, that is a harm that personal liberty may not override. Maybe killing that fetus does not cause anyone any harm. I would argue that it causes that fetus a lot of harm. Maybe we don't care sufficiently about that fetus (because it's not a person, etc) so don't care about the harm caused to it. But then again, maybe we do care-even just a little--about that fetus. If so, pro-choicers' arguments need to go a lot deeper than the 'woman's choice' thing. We could either argue that the woman's choice outweighs the fetus's right to life (a utilitarian argument). So, go ahead, argue it if you can.

Or, you can argue that a fetus should not be protected by the same rights we give people, 'a fetus is not a person', etc. Maybe a fetus is not a person so does not, in virtue of not being a person, have a right to life. But hey, maybe things OTHER than people have a right to life--non-human animals, for instance. Flies, maybe. And maybe fetuses also have a right to life. Sure, they may not be 'people', but maybe they nonetheless have a right to life. Certainly most of us agree that a newborn and a 30 week fetus should each have a right to protection from abortion (a right to life)--so where is the difference? Maybe zygotes should have a right to life too. Afterall, leave them alone for a few months and they have become a person too. (To be contuinued again...)

Anonymous said...

...Arguments about choice and individual freedom don't work unless you can show either that a woman's interests outweigh the interests of the fetus or that a fetus doesn't have any 'interests'.

And it's all very well to say that the burden of proof lies on those trying to ban abortion but everyone should be able to articulate a justification for the moral stance that they take. Refusing to do so is dogmatic.

Prosaic.

Deborah said...

It's all very well that you have read Kymlicka, Deborah, but how much other political philosophy have you read?

I teach political theory! I have a PhD in political theory, from one of the top institutions in the world. Don't come over all patronising with me: I really do know what I am talking about when it comes to political theory.

And specious argument. You have notably refused to engage with the idea of moral autonomy. There are other posts discussing the moral status of foetuses: the point of this post is that abortion is a vexed moral issue, and as such, we should allow individuals to make the moral decisions they think best. Murder is not a vexed moral issue. Nor is rape. Nor is theft. We are all quite clear about the wrongness of these actions.

So let me repeat this again, seeing as you have notably failed to grasp it. This post is not about the moral status of the fetus. This post is about moral autonomy.

Anonymous said...

My point is exactly about moral autonomy. You haven't explained how on earth society is supoposed to work if everyone has moral autonomy. Moral autonomy is fine as long as no one else gets harmed. Which is to say, it is never fine as moral questions are always those that affect other people. Saying it's ok to have moral autonomy when it comes to abortion (but not murder etc, because most people agree) begs the question of the moral status of the fetus. That is, it assumes women can abort because no one else is harmed by their decision. But this is hardly the case.

Prosaic

Anonymous said...

You say, "We can make laws in cases where our moral judgements are backed up by reason and evidence, and the reasoning and evidence has been subject to rigorous scrutiny. The evidence stacks up, the logic stacks up, the outcomes stack up, all providing solid foundations for the law."
We can make laws when back up by evidence--but no government will make such laws unless the majority of the population supports them or agrees (this is majoritarianism/democracy). And, conversely, we make laws frequently enough that are NOT backed by the evidence (the ETS, the Three Strikes Law, laws for the privatisiation of prisons, etc) and these are made law because, again, a majority (or perceived majority) of the population agrees on them...

Anonymous said...

...You seem to assume, and this greatly surprises me given your qualification, that, given all the evidence and solid arguments and so on, the 'correct' moral position can be ascertained and then should be made into law. There's no 'correct' position on abortion--to believe that people should agree with you because you are right is anti-moral autonomy to the extreme. And your arguments are very far from showing that abortion is morally permissable. If you answer all the objections that have been raised agaisnt your argument you might be in a stronger position.

Prosaic

Anonymous said...

"Some people try to bring abortion in under the heading of murder, or wrongful killing, or some such thing, but in order to do that, they need to show that a conceptus, an embryo, or a fetus (depending on the stage of development) has exactly the same moral standing as other human beings."

No they don't. Just as animal rights activists don't need to argue that non-human animals have exactly the same moral status as human beings to argue that killing them is wrong.

All they neeed to show is that a fetus has a moral status of enough value such that, when weighed up against the interests of a woman facing an unwanted pregnancy, it's an equation worth thinking very deeply about, rather than dismissing, which is what the whole line of argument you are putting forward does.

Prosaic

Anonymous said...

The smacking of children is another 'vexed moral issue'. Your argument implies that we should have moral autonomy with that one too and parents should have 'the right to choose' to hit their children. If you respond that this issue is different because others (the children) get harmed, then it is back to the moral status of the fetus. So the argument about moral autonomy and the argument about the moral status of the fetus are not as easy to separate as the 'women's choice' proponents like to think.

The whole abortion debate implies that a fetus has SOME moral status. Pro-choicers assume a fetus has a different moral status than a toenail clipping or a tumour has. Otherwise abortion wouldn't be a moral issue (it would simply be equivalent to getting a tumour removed).
Prosaic

Anonymous said...

"The whole abortion debate implies that a fetus has SOME moral status."

bzzzt. Nope, it implies that some people think an embryo has a moral status that overrules the ability of a woman to make her own choices, medical or otherwise, about her body. Often based on a magic book.


Don't conflate issues in multi-post diatribes.


A.

Anonymous said...

You are right--pro-lifers weigh it up and think the fetus's moral status means its interests outweigh those of the woman.

Anyone debating abortion and anyone interested in these posts believes a fetus has SOME moral status. Therefore, I'd like to see an argument, weighing up the interests of each party, for the claim that a woman's interests outweigh those of the fetus, as I think I've given lots of reasons why the 'it's a woman's choice, period' argument doesn't cut it.

I offered an argument for why I think two issues can't be conflated--perhaps you could respond to that rather than simply saying "don't conflate" them.

My argument has nothing to do with the magic story book about imaginary beings to which you refer and doesn't need to be brought into it.

"diatribe"--a forceful and bitter verbal attack.

Ok, it was long, I have a lot of thoughts about the issue. But where was I bitter and where did I attack? Why can't we just stick to the arguments.

Prosaic

Anonymous said...

True, "diatribe" was the wrong word. "Rant" suits better.


"You are right--pro-lifers weigh it up and think the fetus's moral status means its interests outweigh those of the woman."

Comprehension fail - reread.




"Anyone debating abortion and anyone interested in these posts believes a fetus has SOME moral status. "

No. Your argument seems to be:

"Arguing about 2 issues [moral status of the woman vs moral status of the fertilised egg" = "all participants in argument acknowledge both issues exist" = "one issue outweighs the other" = "pro-choice is pro-smacking" [that's the most obvious conflation, although the entire slide is another] = "pro-choice needs to establish the moral status of both and explain why the fertilised egg is not inviolable".

Every "=" in that blatant slide is debatable ad infinitum, but falls down because each one is an assumption that you have presented as fact.

It's the abortion equivalent of intelligent design: starting from a random assumption and wrapping it in pseudo-logic to fit the conclusion you have already reached. It is not a "debate" or "discussion", it is an harrassment tactic.



That is my last word on the matter.

A.

Anonymous said...

A.--You seem to think I am trying to present an argument for pro-life while all I have done throughout this discussion is point out glaring objections to the pro-choice arguments offered here. But you get defensive, attribute all sorts of assumptions and invalid arguments to me, accuse me of begging the question and of pseudo logic and then say I am harrassing someone.

I'm glad that is your last word on the matter--if indeed it is--as you won't engage in the arguments and don't understand my position. You misinterpret my position from the point where you say "Your argument seems to be:"

Hey, but no need to engage in rigorous debate with people who challenge your arguments or position. Just paint them as ranting religious-righters, attack some straw man position and walk out of the room.

Prosaic.

Deborah said...

Bullshit, Prosaic. They're not glaring objections at all. Furthermore, I detest your dishonesty in not saying that you are arguing a pro-life case. I've noticed this in other comments you have left on pro-choic posts: you claim to be "just trying to find a coherent argument" or "just pointing out flaws".

At least be honest about your motivations. Your lack of integrity seriously undercuts your argument.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah said...

I'm going to delete any further anonymous comments on this thread. I'm happy with a consistent handle. but anonymous comments will be deleted.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah said...

I've deleted a comment from Prosaic which made comments that insulted me personally. Prosaic, you are no longer welcome on this thread. If you wish to make any more comments about this issue, then I suggest you go visit the good folk at blogspot.com or wordpress.com, and set up your own blog.

Julie said...

Fair enough Deborah. Like you, I don't think Prosaic has been engaging in fair dealing, and I have noticed today some similar activity by the same person (assumedly) elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

It’s a shame Prosaic’s been barred – I was learning from the rigorous debate – couldn’t you delete the offending comments and post the rest?

Seems, from where I am sitting, debate got too rigorous and Prosaic was aborted – ‘cos you can.

I reckon that this moral permissibility/autonomy, control over our bodies argument is pure sophistry.

Terminating life is not morally permissible. I would no more kill a tadpole than I would a frog, unless it was getting in my way.

Women abort babies because they can – they have more power than a fetus and that fetus is getting in the way of what they want and full term pregnancy leading to adoption is shameful. That is where feminist debate should be centred.

Seems to me a culture where a whangai system would work…

Connie Mist

Anonymous said...

"Seems to me a culture where a whangai system would work…"

oops

should read:

Seems to me a culture where a whangai system would work they'd be no need for abortion on demand

Connie Mist

Anonymous said...

Oh man!

There'd be no need....not they'd.

Mondays.

Connie Mist

Julie said...

So compulsory pregnancy is ok as long as there's a decent adoption system at the end of it? Count me out, thanks very much. (I am in favour of a decent adoption system, but that's another topic really).

Don't worry about typos btw, as long as you aren't confusing it doesn't matter, and if you are then someone will be bound to ask for clarification which you can then supply.

In terms of the comment policy, I don't really care much what anyone who isn't one of the bloggers here thinks. Our place, our rules, end of. I suggest you stick to discussing the actual topic at hand Connie, rather than going down that rat hole.

Boganette said...

"full term pregnancy leading to adoption is shameful." - I don't think that's the case at all. I find the whole idea that women should be forced to carry children for others because of religious beliefs quite nauseating. I really don't think the people suggesting it actually consider what that would entail. I've never heard anyone say adoption is "shameful" but I've heard many women say it's not something they could do. And I personally don't want to force them to do that because of some weirdo fucked up religious belief. But hey that's just me.

As I often say to anti-choicers who push the "forced pregnancy and then adopt out" idealogy - Why aren't you setting an example now? And walking the talk? How many babies have you adopted that would have been aborted? How many babies have you adopted full-stop? Yeah...none.

It's like anti-choicers don't realise that there are already children without parents living in foster care (I hate to say it but at a higher risk than other children of sexual assault and physical abuse) or on wait-lists for adoptive parents. But hey, let's just add say 18,0000 more in NZ alone to that list aye? Because once they're born they don't seem to matter. As long as they're born. Right?

Because New Zealand is just full-to-bursting with happy, shiny, heterosexual, married Christian couples willing to adopt babies right? Pffft! Fantasy land alert.

Boganette said...

Oh and by the way I do like how that anti-choice argument also completely ignores the costs involved of pregnancy. I mean are they going to compensate the pregnant woman while she isn't at work?

Were they going to base the whole thing on The Handmaid's Tale?

Anonymous said...

Boganette,
“Do what you feels right, and you will feel alright. If you are bad you will feel sad, that’s the religion I live by”, Mike Skinner

I am an atheist – why presume christianity?

I have also had two terminations, 20 years ago now. I knew then as I know now that fundamentally it is wrong to terminate life. That is why I felt sad, and why now I still wonder about what might have been…
I believed then that I had no choice but to terminate – adoption was something I “couldn’t do” – why? Because you are “giving away” a baby and there is/was so little, practical, emotional and psychological, support for this option. How about a society that valued unplanned pregnancies, supported young mothers and allowed them to place their babies with caring adults (gay, straight, brown or white, maybe even christian)?

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”, John Lennon

I am really interested in where you get your stats on the likelihood of children being abused in foster care? My experience (and I have considerable) is otherwise.

And, for what it is worth, there is a very long waiting list of, unfortunately only married couples, as that is the law (how about we fight that fight), wanting to adopt babies. There is also a considerable amount of people available to have older children permanently placed with them. Teenagers are a different matter unfortunately.

But, all that aside, we can’t say terminating life is morally permissible cos it just isn’t. But we can (abort) and we do because we have the power to. Let’s keep the argument straight.

Anonymous said...

Last post - Connie Mist btw

McFlock said...

"But, all that aside, we can’t say terminating life is morally permissible cos it just isn’t."

Bull.

What about a police officer shooting an armed offender? Or missing despite best efforts and hitting a civilian?

"Terminating life" is generally wrong, is sometimes the lesser of two wrongs, but is occasionally even a mercy.

That is even before one gets into the "sentience/beginning of life" debate.

Nice categorical statement, though. It sounded really profound.

Boganette said...

"I am an atheist – why presume christianity?" - of course you are.

I think it's kind of pointless to quote John Lennon and talk about what an ideal world would look like.

RIGHT NOW - we don't live in an ideal world. There are NOT 18,000 sets of married parents willing to adopt in NZ.

"I am really interested in where you get your stats on the likelihood of children being abused in foster care? My experience (and I have considerable) is otherwise"
- funny that "my experience" which I consider "considerable" as well suggests otherwise.

And there we have it. I won't quote John Lennon - I'll just say that he'd be rolling in his grave if he knew people were using his words to take away freedom of choice from women. After all he was a feminist (at least some of the time).

I'm sorry you felt you had no choice but to terminate. I am pro-choice and I want every woman to have choice.

"But, all that aside, we can’t say terminating life is morally permissible cos it just isn’t." - I don't agree at all with that statement. And you saying you believe it doesn't make it true.

Anonymous said...

No point talking about an ideal world, boganette? Good to know, but the site's authors seem to disagree.

Boganette said...

Anon - I have my own blog you're welcome to view it. I am not one of the site's authors as you know. But nice attempt at a derail. I see you didn't link to your blog? Anon hero strikes again.

Anonymous said...

Boganette said...
"I am an atheist – why presume christianity?" - of course you are.

Are you for real - are you suggesting that I'm not atheist? Is it not possible to conceive that someone who doesn't believe in deities, fairy godmothers or any other kind of silly supernaturals could believe that a fetus is a life?
Just an aetheist wanting to contribute to a debate. I give up.

Go the open minds!
Connie Mist

Boganette said...

Oh please Connie calm down. Yes, I have a slight eye-roll when people say they're an Atheist after spouting views very much in line with the religious right. Just as I eye-roll at people who claim they're just playing "devil's advocate" in these debates and those that say they're neither pro-choice or anti-choice because ultimately it's about being honest about where you stand on an issue. No point attempting to hide the fact that you're anti-choice by saying you're a member of a community that generally doesn't believe in souls and other superstitious crap. Personally I don't care whether you're an Atheist or not. But just like when people say "well I think I'd know I do work in that feild" etc on a blog - I take it with a grain of salt. Which frankly I'm allowed to do.

Anonymous said...

http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/prolifenonbelievers/forum/topics/objections-to-prolife-atheists

Julie said...

Someone commented on this thread with a name v close to one of the blog authors who hasn't written anything for a while. After checking with them (which took some time) that it wasn't them, I've deleted the comment on impersonation grounds.

You may be genuine, I don't know, but your pseud is too close to someone else's so get a new one and try again if you are legit.

Acid Queen said...

This is the former Aunty Entity. I was not attempting to impersonate Ms Enid Tak-Entity (who I didn't know about until I read the blog authors list - I am new). My name is a reference to the character from the Mad Max film. I have changed it to reference another cinematic heroine. I have renamed myself to a different Tina Turner character.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting reading the arguments for and against. It is a shame though that Christians are consistently insulted through derogatory terminology (fairies, magic books, repulsive etc). It diminishes arguments that are otherwise rational, reasonable, etc.
Cheers,
Oktas