Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate?


11:10 am - June 7th 2011

by Zohra Moosa    


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There was a great turn-out last night at the pro-choice meeting that Jess McCabe and Sunny Hundal organized.

The discussion was wide-ranging, with some excellent speaking from Diane Abbott MP, Abortion Rights and Education for Choice. One of the topics I raised and I’d like to explore further is the ethical – and political – case for women’s access to abortion.

There was a strong current in the room advocating for taking a scientific, public health approach to abortion rights. They recommended making informed, fact-based interventions to the debates on abstinence education, for example. And some people highlighted how effective this can be, especially where anti-abortion lobbyists are making spurrious ‘pseudo-scientific’ claims and considering how the mainstream majority already believes in the women’s right to choose.

However, some people also made a lot of the fact that anti-abortion lobbyists are operating from a position of ideology, rather than science. While this may be true, I don’t agree that ideology, per se, is a bad thing. Feminism is an ideology. I kind of like it. Moreover science can be marshalled in defence of all kinds of ideologies – including ones I don’t agree with.

Science is a tool, and it is not apolitical. Scientists can be political actors, with agendas. The idea that science is the opposite of ideology is not born out by how science is produced, how evidence is gathered, what conclusions we come to through ‘facts’. Enter climate change debates!

Meanwhile, I do not want to lose the ethical, political, and also ideological at times, case for abortion rights and reproductive justice. Women have the right to own and control what happens to their bodies. These rights are enshrined in laws and human rights principles that the UK has signed up to. And all women are entitled to them.

For example, regardless of whether ‘life’ is viable at 20 weeks or not (it’s not), women should still be able to legally, safely, affordably access abortion. We should also be able to access abortions after 24 weeks. And we really should be able to access abortions regardless of where in the UK we are located – the restrictions in Northern Ireland are unaceptable. Full stop.

Certainly I understand the benefits of pragmatism and advocating ‘evidence-based policy-making’, as well as why we should equip ourselves and others, including our politicians, with the facts on abortion as we move into this next phase of pro-choice campaigning. Myth-busting and real stories from women who’ve actually had abortions are essential to resist anti-women movements and illustrate how appropriate a pro-choice position is for a fair and humane society.

But let’s also remember that our work is political: our rights to our bodies is a contested ideological terrain. Let’s not be so keen to leave this arena lest we suddenly find ourselves out of the conversation altogether.


cross-posted from The F Word

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About the author
Zohra Moosa is women's rights adviser at ActionAid UK. She also blogs at The F-Word and is writing in her own capacity
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Reader comments


Science cannot tell you what rights you do or do not have – at least not when it is done properly. They aren’t empirically testable like tha.

But I suppose when the other side is making spurious scientific claims, you may be forced into looking at the science too.

I completely agree; science can be a useful tool in disproving disingenuous and harmful claims made by the anti-choice camp (e.g. that abortion causes mental illness or breast cancer), but the core pro-woman argument is an ideological one.

It’s pointless to try and “prove scientifically” to people that women are human beings like everyone else and deserve their human rights: nobody who is in favour of denying women their rights is seriously in doubt that they’re members of the Homo (ha!) Sapiens Sapiens species. That’s not what’s going on here, and banging our heads against that particular wall can actually be a distraction from the main issue.

As it has been, for example, in the case of defining “life” – does human life begin at conception, at 14 days, at birth? Is a foetus a human being? Lots of pro-science ink has been spilled debating these questions, where of course the real question should be “regardless of whether a foetus is or is not a human being, does it or any other life form deserve, as an inalienable right the denial of which should be punishable by law, free bed and board in another human being’s body for 9 months?”. To which there can only be a moral, not a “scientific” answer.

Well, I appreciate the sentiment. Most of the premises of the “pro-choice” – and “pro-life”, of course! – movements are philosophical rather than scientific: the “right” to choose; the “right” to life; all notions of personhood, potentiality and so forth.

I’d prefer “ethical” or “philosophical” over “political”, however. I’m not sure that Foot, Jarvis Thompson and the like would see themselves as political theorists!

I’d prefer “ethical” or “philosophical” over “political”, however. I’m not sure that Foot, Jarvis Thompson and the like would see themselves as political theorists!

Moral?

the real question should be “regardless of whether a foetus is or is not a human being, does it or any other life form deserve, as an inalienable right the denial of which should be punishable by law, free bed and board in another human being’s body for 9 months?”. To which there can only be a moral, not a “scientific” answer.

The moment you start making it an emotive point though, there’s an obvious response. “Should one person have the right to kill another for the sake of their own convenience?” Ultimately, both sides convince themselves, and talk past each other.

6. the a&e charge nurse

There have been over 1 million abortions during the last 6 years – what is the burning scientific question that will have any effect on this trend?

I know that many infertile couples would be delighted to provide a home for a new born baby – is there a case for providing the option to go to term (with a view to adoption) rather than termination?

4 -

Well, yes. Moral philosophy.

8. the a&e charge nurse

[5] “The moment you start making it an emotive point though, there’s an obvious response. “Should one person have the right to kill another for the sake of their own convenience?” Ultimately, both sides convince themselves, and talk past each other” – that has been the bottom line for some time.

Incidentally I’m pro-abortion but the numbers trouble me – I’m still trying to figure out why.

9. Torquil Macneil

By why does a woman (or a man) have a ‘right to her body’? Is that just to be taken for granted a priori? Because that isn’t really a very strong philosophical position, in fact it amounts to a circular argument, doesn’t it? Also the idea of self ownership (which you seem to be suggesting) raises all sorts of other problems. As Nozick argued it is incompatible with the power of governments to raise coercive taxes, for example.

Science tells you the facts. Then politics & ethics are the decisions you make.

People – individually and collectively – make better decisions when they are better informed of the facts. So as a general point of principle (not specifically in the case of abortion), I favour keeping the science centre stage.

‘Ideology’ in the absence of science always makes me think of Keynes:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Thought it was a really good meeting and am keen to be more involved.

I would say that I think more anger is needed… or that we need to feel comfortable about demonstrating our anger and being fairly forthright in our dismantling of the contributions of persons like Dorries.

The science is certainly important and the science is on our side (most people support legal abortion, only a tiny number of abortions are late term, etc), but there is an ethical point here that we shouldn’t be afraid of making and defending – that women must have the right to end a pregnancy if they are to achieve genuine equality with men. Anti abortionists have made successful inroads into shifting the emphasis from that right to the rights of the fetus. I don’t think that we should be shy of claiming our entitlement to sexual freedom, equality and health. I think that there can be too much concern about trying to appeal to the middle ground. The middle ground, frankly, ain’t that big.

It was a good meeting, though, and certainly an important starting point.

thanks Zohra, sorry i couldn’t make it last night, sounds like it was an interesting meeting. Just wondering, how did the discussion went on opening up choice to women in who they can get counselling from – if they want it of course. As I understand it, many women are forced to get counselling from a couple of organisations, some of which make money from actually providing abortions. Just interested to know what the meeting thought about this conflict of interests.

13. Chaise Guevara

Good article (and much better than I thought it was going to be based on the title!). You’re quite right: in this and pretty much any other ethical debate, ideology defines your stance but science (and facts in general) should inform it. This is a hell of an improvement over the “science is on OUR side!” articles I’ve seen by both camps, which are always nonsense.

many women are forced to get counselling from a couple of organisations, some of which make money from actually providing abortions.

Do you mean women are forced into counselling, or that their counselling choices are limited?

Nither is technically true I don’t think – women are “forced”, if you like, to discuss their decision with 2 GPs needed to refer them for an abortion, but that’s not really counselling; and as far as I am aware there are no limitations on receiving counselling from any organisation at all prior to an abortion, be it Life or BPAS or whomever.

Both Mary Stopes and the NHS are not for profit by the way, so which organisations did you mean when you said some of them make money from abortion?

Marina S, I mean counselling choices are limited. If i want an abortion and i would like counselling before hand, if my GP has an arrangement with Marie Stopes or bpas, i can only get counselling from these organisations unless i am prepared to go private. I don’t see why the choice of providers should be so restricted. If women want counselling surely they shoudl be able to get it from somewhere they choose, and not because the PCT have a deal to provide abortions and counselling as part of a package. Many women will not be able to afford to pay for counselling, so they are forced to get it from bpas and MSI – that’s what i mean.
I just wondered if this was discussed at the meeting last night?

I am intrigued as to when both sides believe life starts, and therefore if/when abortion becomes killing. Is it only a life if it is born? What judgement do we take to decide that? Consciousness of surroundings? experience of pain? Or actually just being born. Seriously, I don’t know.

I’m not convinced that anyone has an absolute right over their own body. Many decisions we take have an impact on others, and therefore behaviour is moderated, and choice restricted, to take that into account. Why is it not the case with pregnancy and abortion?

Hi all

4+5
Some of the arguments are definitely ethical and even philosophical, but the campaigns for change are political. And certainly, in the context of feminism, which is a political movement, pro-choice arguments are also political ones.

6+8
I’m pro-choice, rather than pro-abortion – and that is why I think a woman’s body is her own. So carrying to term – for whatever reason – still has to be about whether the woman who has to do it is ok with that.

9
ownership of our bodies, as I mentioned, comes from human rights principles – which are then traslated through law for example through international conventions

15
there were some counsellors in the room actually, but the issue didn’t come up as a conflict of interest, but rather as how important it is for women to have non-judgemental and genuinely open and supportive counselling to support them to decide what they need for themselves

I’m with TimJ @4. Morality is important here, more precisely Western liberal morality as I’m not too convinced by the alternatives I’ve looked at ;-)

I don’t like abortion but the alternative is worse. I don’t want to see a return to the horrors of the past or to force a woman to carry an unwanted child to term. At the same time I find late-term abortions horrible. I disagree with the OP when it glibly says that a woman’s right to choose outweighs everything else so that abortions after 24 weeks should be allowed as a right.

This is where the science comes in. It can tell us when a foetus becomes viable, when it has certain senses and especially when it feels pain. Should these be ignored in the debate?

I entirely disagree with the ideological position of Dorries and Field, who want to cause delays and increase the stresses upon women who are already in a difficult position. We should stand against them and argue for quicker, more readily available abortions (and sexual and reproductive health services) so that they can be done as early as possible. Getting rid of a small ball of cells has to be morally better than slicing up a viable foetus and vacuuming out the bits.

“there were some counsellors in the room actually, but the issue didn’t come up as a conflict of interest, but rather as how important it is for women to have non-judgemental and genuinely open and supportive counselling to support them to decide what they need for themselves”

that’s great and I agree that genuinely supportive and open counselling is important – but shouldn’t women have more choice over who the provider of that counselling is? shouldn’t it be up to them to decide where they go? Why is choice being restricted? That seems to be an important factor in this debate, it’s a shame that it wasn’t really discussed.

20. LoserLiarFakePhoney

scientifically speaking, an organisms “life” begins at birth does it not? I do not remember ever being taught that any species other than humans begin life before birth, heck, it seems counter intuitive, what does birth mean if not the beggining of life?

imo, the right of the actually living mother will always take preccedent over that of the foetus, if the foetus were alive, why do we have these understandings and definitions of species life cycles?

Ah. Opinion without facts.

There’s an argument for the place of science in this debate in a nutshell.

9
If the individual does not own their own body, then who does, although this is a rhetorical question, it highlights thie difficulty of assuming anything other.
16
All behaviours impact on some other person/s, as long as it isn’t illegal, each person should be able to consider the consequences and act as they choose, if not, how do you suggest we conduct our lives?
.

23. Watchman

16, Ian,

I’m not convinced that anyone has an absolute right over their own body. Many decisions we take have an impact on others, and therefore behaviour is moderated, and choice restricted, to take that into account. Why is it not the case with pregnancy and abortion?

Right over your own body should be differentiated from right to take actions – in effect, the right over your own body is the right to stop others affecting you (the extent and context vary, but it never applies to you committing violence to others – which is an imparement of the right to their own body). It is pretty much one of the key definitions of tyranny, that your body is seen as belonging to the state/people/revolution/struggle/spaghetti people of Wapping Forest rather than being under your own control.

And with pregnancy, if you consider a foetus a child, it has rights, but no body, child or otherwise has the right to occupy another’s body. The key weakness of the foetuses are people argument is that by ascribing rights to the foetus they have to then explain why the rights of one person (the foetus) trump those of another (the pregnant person). Effectively, you have to concede that for abortion to be wrong (under this moral system – it can be wrong to the religious for entirely different reasons for example) that one (putative) person’s rights trump another’s. I don’t think we can ever allow that as a judgement in a democracy – unless you believe in capital and corporal punishment as well?

An excellent article by the way…

24. Watchman

Torquil @9,

By why does a woman (or a man) have a ‘right to her body’? Is that just to be taken for granted a priori? Because that isn’t really a very strong philosophical position, in fact it amounts to a circular argument, doesn’t it? Also the idea of self ownership (which you seem to be suggesting) raises all sorts of other problems. As Nozick argued it is incompatible with the power of governments to raise coercive taxes, for example.

Can I suggest this debate is more sensibly not gendered – it concerns basic principals, not just women (or men) – indeed, the greatest danger abortion probably faces is being seen as a political issue for feminists only.

But, unless you can come up with an argument why we should not have the rights to our own bodies, then I do not think the position needs defending. Effectively it is the principal underlying laws such as assualt and rape – my oppostion of the extension of these sort of laws to willing play depends on the point of view that the state is then claiming the right to control our bodies, not us for example.

As to the problem with coercive taxation – so long as coercion is non-violent (as it is in the UK where physical violence is not used as a threat) then I see no problem in this respect. It requires you to consider externalties to the body, such as income, as part of the body for this to be logically coherent.

25. Chaise Guevara

@ 20

“scientifically speaking, an organisms “life” begins at birth does it not? I do not remember ever being taught that any species other than humans begin life before birth, heck, it seems counter intuitive, what does birth mean if not the beggining of life?”

Um, birth would mean the act of leaving your mother’s body. I myself certainly don’t remember being told that life begins at birth. Conception is the point where a single living organism is created, which seems the best definition of “beginning of life” as far as I can work out.

Think about it: if you artificially remove an eight-month-old foetus from the womb, it will most likely live… isn’t it then a bit weird to claim that a nine-month-old foetus that is still in the womb is somehow unalive?

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 Watchman

“Can I suggest this debate is more sensibly not gendered – it concerns basic principals, not just women (or men) – indeed, the greatest danger abortion probably faces is being seen as a political issue for feminists only.”

Agreed – the issue would be the same if men gave birth and women didn’t, or if both sexes bore children.

This not about abortion and saving babies. It is about sex, as I have said before. Here is a little example from the US………

“A fringe anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, has been startlingly successful at pushing forward legislation across the country that would redefine life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, effectively outlawing contraceptives like birth control pills. Although the medical community has long been in agreement that fertilization does not mark the beginning of a pregnancy — fertilized eggs must first be implanted, and only about half of fertilized eggs actually result in a pregnancy — a growing number of lawmakers are supporting Personhood USA’s efforts to buck medical expertise and legally define life as the moment a sperm meets an egg.

If they succeed in passing such a law — and if such a law survives judicial scrutiny — it could turn common forms of birth control into the legal equivalent of a homicide. While “personhood” laws have always been a transparent attempt to outlaw abortion, the legislation supported by groups like Personhood USA goes much further in trying to assert government control over women’s bodies. These laws would recognize every fertilized egg as an individual and complete human being with full rights, and place millions of women in legal jeopardy. According to 2008 numbers, around 11 million American women use birth control pills and another 2 million use intrauterine devices (IUDs).

Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, is transparent about his motives, telling NPR, “Certainly women, my wife included, would want to know if the pills they’re taking would kill a unique human individual. And I think there’s a lot of misinformation about that, or lack of information.” Sadly, Mason is not alone. Rachel Maddow reports that this Saturday is the fourth annual Protest the Pill event. Each year the event, put on by another fringe group called American Life League, features slogans like “The pill kills babies,” “The pill kills women,” and “The pill kills marriage.”

If you are against abortion, why would you out law contaception? The reason is that what they really hate, is woman having power over their bodies, and their sexulaity.

LoserLiarFakePhoney @20,

scientifically speaking, an organisms “life” begins at birth does it not? I do not remember ever being taught that any species other than humans begin life before birth, heck, it seems counter intuitive,…

So what you’re saying is that the same thing while inside the womb is not alive and outside the womb it is alive. What is it inside the womb, then? Dead? Undead?

Utterly bizarre.

… what does birth mean if not the beggining of life?

It is the child’s beginning of life physically separate from it’s mother.

@27 The women on the anti-abortion side don’t their movement many favours when they then go and elect to have an abortion themselves. Course in their case there’s damn good reasons, and their abortion is like totally moral and agonisingly thought through, unlike all the other women there, who apparently only get abortions for shits and giggles…

@ 23:

“The key weakness of the foetuses are people argument is that by ascribing rights to the foetus they have to then explain why the rights of one person (the foetus) trump those of another (the pregnant person).”

The right to life is more important than the right not to be inconvenienced. Since those are generally the conflicting rights (except in circumstances when giving birth would threaten the mother’s life), the foetus’ right to life should be protected over the mothers’ right not to be inconvenienced by being pregnant.

“one (putative) person’s rights trump another’s. I don’t think we can ever allow that as a judgement in a democracy”

We can, and do all the time. If I were to commit a spree of violent crimes, I would quite rightly be sent to gaol and thereby deprived of my right to liberty, because my right to liberty is less important in this case than other people’s rights not to be horribly attacked. If I were to incite people to murder, most people would consider my right to freedom of speech to be less important than others’ right not to get murdered. Similarly, my right to do what I want with my body doesn’t mean that I can punch you in the face, because your right not to get punched is considered more important.

“unless you believe in capital and corporal punishment as well?”

Presumably, because you think that nobody’s rights should ever be allowed to trump another’s, you’re against all laws and legal systems whatsoever?

@ 29:

“The women on the anti-abortion side don’t their movement many favours when they then go and elect to have an abortion themselves.”

No, but strictly speaking, that doesn’t impact on the quality of their arguments.

@ 23:

Also, by saying that women should be able to get an abortion, you’re implicitly saying that their right not to be inconvenienced trumps the foetus’ right to life. In fact, the only way for you to avoid saying that one person’s rights should trump another’s is by saying nothing at all on any issue concerning conflicting rights.

Ideology without science is called religion.

Science is apolitical, but scientists and the conclusions they draw may well not be.

To argue using only political or moral arguments means that your side is always right and the other side is always wrong.

It doesn’t matter if science and rational thought back up your opinions if the opposition can make a strong emotional argument they can still win the debate.

No, but it does point toward the futility of them. Assuming the aim is to produce workable humane policy anyway.

There should have been an @31 in there :/

It really doesn’t matter who ‘wins’ the debate or if abortions are made illegal, women will still have abortions, it appears that, whenever we have a debate on abortion, this crucial fact is overlooked.
What women are now given is a safe environment for the procedure to be carried-out, professional support and neutral advice and councelling.
Religious and moral values belong to the individual, and if any individual is against abortion on personal and moral grounds, they will not seek an abortion, providing there is no immediate danger caused by the pregnancy. Pro-life are, therefore, attempting to impose their own values on to everyone, and it will not work, for reasons given in the first paragraph.
Science as @33 suggests is not always used in a value-free way but desperate women do not take a scientific approach to terminating a pregnancy.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 36 steveb

“It really doesn’t matter who ‘wins’ the debate or if abortions are made illegal, women will still have abortions, it appears that, whenever we have a debate on abortion, this crucial fact is overlooked.”

It isn’t overlooked, nor should it be. Although there would be fewer abortions (we know this because abortion rates rise following legalisation).

“Religious and moral values belong to the individual, and if any individual is against abortion on personal and moral grounds, they will not seek an abortion, providing there is no immediate danger caused by the pregnancy. Pro-life are, therefore, attempting to impose their own values on to everyone”

That’s disingenuous nonsense. Pro-lifers believe that the z/e/f counts as a person with rights. From this POV, someone having an abortion is imposing their values on the z/e/f (specific value being that they have the right to kill it).

Both sides of this debate come out with some total bullshit. One of the more annoying tendencies on the pro-choice side is pretending not to know what pro-lifers believe in, as you just did.

@37

Although there would be fewer abortions (we know this because abortion rates rise following legalisation).

Really and how exactly are illegal abortion rates measured accurately?

Pro-lifers believe that the z/e/f counts as a person with rights.

and Pro-choice believe it isn’t. As I said – they’re right and the other side is wrong.

My point about who ‘wins’ is that you can have all the rationale on your side yet still lose; therefore it’s important to fight with every tool available.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ 38

“Really and how exactly are illegal abortion rates measured accurately?”

It’s tricky, but you can get rough data via birth rates. Which tend to fall after abortion is legalised. Are you really suggesting that EVERY woman who would get a legal abortion will get an illegal one if abortion is banned?

“and Pro-choice believe it isn’t. As I said – they’re right and the other side is wrong.”

Wow, what a knockdown argument…

“My point about who ‘wins’ is that you can have all the rationale on your side yet still lose; therefore it’s important to fight with every tool available.”

Saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” isn’t a tool for a debate, it’s a way of refusing to engage with the debate.

@39

Are you really suggesting that EVERY woman who would get a legal abortion will get an illegal one if abortion is banned?

No I agree that the rates are likely to increase, but we don’t know this because the data is unreliable. If someone used that as an anti-abortion argument I’d state “Prove it!”

Wow, what a knockdown argument…

It isn’t and that’s my point.

Saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” isn’t a tool for a debate, it’s a way of refusing to engage with the debate.

I agree yet isn’t it amazing how often the emotional argument trumps the purely rational one.

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 40 FlipC

“No I agree that the rates are likely to increase, but we don’t know this because the data is unreliable. If someone used that as an anti-abortion argument I’d state “Prove it!”

Fair enough. But I imagine you could get data if you looked. Not exact data, obviously, but close enough for government work.

For example, if a country showed a large drop in birth rates in, say, the five years following the legalisation of abortion, and there were no other likely factors, I’d accept that as evidence. Especially if the same trend occurred in other countries. And I bet it does.

“It isn’t and that’s my point.”

Your point is that you’re making a bad argument?

Sorry, but you’ve lost me. My point was that Steve was pretending that the other POV didn’t exist. So I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove by telling me that there are multiple POVs: that’s what I was saying in the first place!

“I agree yet isn’t it amazing how often the emotional argument trumps the purely rational one.”

Sure, and it has its tactical uses. I’m treating this conversation from the angle of wanting a debate. If you’re coming from the equally valid angle of wanting to discuss how best to protect abortion rights, then obviously discussing emotional arguments makes sense.

42. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #25:

“Conception is the point where a single living organism is created, which seems the best definition of “beginning of life” as far as I can work out.”

A very difficult case to argue; quite apart from the fact that multiple births from a single conception are not unheard of (hence “single” is inaccurate), you are faced with defining this:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/12/17/tumor.php

as alive. See PZ’s comment which referred to it:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/12/awesomely_horrible.php

43. Chaise Guevara

@ 42 Robin Levitt

“very difficult case to argue”

Not really…

“quite apart from the fact that multiple births from a single conception are not unheard of (hence “single” is inaccurate)”

No, “single” as in individual (i.e. twins are two individuals). Actually, with “organism” in there you probably don’t need it, so you could go with “the point where an organism (or several) is created”.

“you are faced with defining this as alive”

Well, it is. If it’s organic and it’s not dead, it’s alive.

But in any case, we’re looking for broad definitions and it’s probably not very useful to get hung up on weird cases like twin tumors. Where would you say life begins, if not at conception?

Finally, the topic is in danger of becoming truly semantic: even if some form of scientific authority made a ruling that the word “life” referred to post-birth organisms (or post-conception organisms), that wouldn’t be a reason for anyone to change their views on abortion. Whatever word you used to describe the period between conception and birth, pro-lifers would continue to see humans in that period as being entitled to rights.

(If you’re wondering why I’m debating this subject while calling it semantic, it’s because someone upthread basically said “foetuses aren’t alive so obviously pro-lifers are wrong”, and the sheer lack of logical thought behind that pissed me off.)

@41

Not exact data, obviously, but close enough for government work.

Again I agree, but there can be a hell of a lot of variables to winnow out.

Your point is that you’re making a bad argument?

That there are always multiple POVs and that they’re all correct from the persons making them. Therefore arguing using such doesn’t get anyone anywhere unless you’re doing so to a third party.

I’m treating this conversation from the angle of wanting a debate

The title of this piece is “Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate?” If the emotional argument is side-lined for the science argument I’d be that side ‘loses’.

45. Chaise Guevara

@ 44 Flip C

“That there are always multiple POVs and that they’re all correct from the persons making them. Therefore arguing using such doesn’t get anyone anywhere unless you’re doing so to a third party.”

There’s a difference between sticking to your POV and pretending the other POV doesn’t exist.

If you were to say “It’s clearly ridiculous to claim that rights of an unborn foetus can take precedence over those of an adult woman”, you’d be making an entirely subjective statement, but I’d consider it reasonable.

If, however, you frame the conversation so that abortion appears to be about the mother and ONLY the mother, you’ve misrepresented abortion to the point where you’ve artifically removed the only reason pro-lifers exist in the first place. So it becomes a straw man attack where the implication is that pro-lifers are fascists who want to tell people what to do with their own bodies because you’re pretending that the foetus doesn’t exist.

It’s one of the many pieces of annoying bullshit that you hear all the time (from both sides) when abortion comes up, and I try to call people on it when I see it.

46. Chaise Guevara

*To be clear, “you” in the above post does not mean you personally.

47. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #44:

“If you’re wondering why I’m debating this subject while calling it semantic, it’s because someone upthread basically said “foetuses aren’t alive so obviously pro-lifers are wrong”, and the sheer lack of logical thought behind that pissed me off.)”

He didn’t actually – see #40. He was pointing out the simplistic thinking behind arguing without reference to actual facts; scientific discoveries inform the debate on whether/when a foetus becomes a live human being.

“Well, it is. If it’s organic and it’s not dead, it’s alive.”

So is a brussels sprout before you pick itt – but no-one accords it any rights. The problem is equivocation between a f/e/z being alive, and it being a live human being entitled to the full panoply of rights accorded to those of us outside the womb. I have hitherto assumed that you are treating the claim that “life begins at conception” as shorthand for “a live human being exists at conception”. If Iam wrong, please say so; but note that to say that a *human* life begins at conception is to define the leg in the photo as a human life.

“But in any case, we’re looking for broad definitions and it’s probably not very useful to get hung up on weird cases like twin tumors. Where would you say life begins, if not at conception?”

At the earliest, at some time between conception and birth, at the point at which the f/e/z acquires sentience. Since the cerebral cortical cells doesn’t typically begin firing until at least 20 weeks into the pregnancy, it doesn;t have the equipment to be sentient before then.

The point at which the foetus acquires the right to be carried to term notwithstanding the undoubted risk to the mother’s health (continuing to term has a far higher maternal mortality rate than abortion) is arguably much later than that; although by common consent that right, or its equivalent, seems then to be lost at a point sometime between birth and reception class.

Do you support my right to a blood transfusion from you in a situation where your blood is the only match available, and I require a transfusion to save my life?

48. Chaise Guevara

@ 47 Robin Levett

“He didn’t actually – see #40.”

#40 is a different person. See #20, which is the person I was talking about.

“He was pointing out the simplistic thinking behind arguing without reference to actual facts; scientific discoveries inform the debate on whether/when a foetus becomes a live human being.”

See what I said above about semantics: science does inform this debate, but where we decide to apply the word “life” doesn’t, it’s just a label.

“So is a brussels sprout before you pick itt – but no-one accords it any rights.”

Nobody’s saying that life automatically grants rights.

“The problem is equivocation between a f/e/z being alive, and it being a live human being entitled to the full panoply of rights accorded to those of us outside the womb. I have hitherto assumed that you are treating the claim that “life begins at conception” as shorthand for “a live human being exists at conception”. If Iam wrong, please say so; but note that to say that a *human* life begins at conception is to define the leg in the photo as a human life.”

Well, I would personally classify a z/e/f as a live human being, but not as “a live human being entitled to the full panoply of rights accorded to those of us outside the womb”. And again it’s semantic: if you don’t like to see the term “human being” applied to a z/e/f, then we’re talking about words again.

“At the earliest, at some time between conception and birth, at the point at which the f/e/z acquires sentience. Since the cerebral cortical cells doesn’t typically begin firing until at least 20 weeks into the pregnancy, it doesn;t have the equipment to be sentient before then.”

That doesn’t make sense: plants are alive but they’re not (we assume) sentient, so I’m not sure how sentience can be a prerequisite for life.

I have to say that you appear to be defining life in a way designed specifically for the puposes of discussing abortion (in other words, I don’t see why you’d bring sentience into the definition of life unless you were thinking specifically about abortion).

“The point at which the foetus acquires the right to be carried to term notwithstanding the undoubted risk to the mother’s health (continuing to term has a far higher maternal mortality rate than abortion) is arguably much later than that; although by common consent that right, or its equivalent, seems then to be lost at a point sometime between birth and reception class.”

You’ve lost me. Why would someone need a right to be carried to term after being born?

“Do you support my right to a blood transfusion from you in a situation where your blood is the only match available, and I require a transfusion to save my life?”

I can see the argument for supporting that, but I don’t at present. I suspect you’ve mistaken me for a pro-lifer, though.

49. Chaise Guevara

@ Robin Levitt

I’ll also give you the question UKLiberty asked earlier: if an embryo or a plant is not alive due to its lack of sentience, what is it? Dead? Undead? A mineral?

37
Please explain how my remarks are ‘disingenous nonsense’

41 Rubbish, I wasn’t pretending anything, I was merely arguing from a different perspective – that women who want abortions will not base their decisions on the values/morals of Pro Life or on scientific grounds. You are now being disingenous.

51. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #48/49:

“#40 is a different person. See #20, which is the person I was talking about.”

#20 said foetuses *are* alive…

“I have to say that you appear to be defining life in a way designed specifically for the puposes of discussing abortion (in other words, I don’t see why you’d bring sentience into the definition of life unless you were thinking specifically about abortion).”

No; I am assuming that what you mean by “life” is “human life” and addressing that issue. The fact that something is simply “alive” doesn’t entitle it to any particular rights or even consideration; it is the claimed humanity of that life which raises any issues. The immediate capability of sentience is an essential component of what most people mean by human life.

I assume that you agree that the bundle of differentiated cells forming an apparently human leg in the photograph may be alive, but it is not human life. If that is so, and yet your view is that human life begins at conception, at what point did that bundle of differentiated cells cease to be human life? My view is that it never became human life.

Again; are HeLa cells human life?

“I’ll also give you the question UKLiberty asked earlier: if an embryo or a plant is not alive due to its lack of sentience, what is it? Dead? Undead? A mineral?”

They are a live embryo and a live plant respectively. Neither is human life. If the live embryo never develops a functioning brain, what was it at the developmental stages prior to those at which the brain should have formed and begun functioning? Human life, or something else? Does it make a difference that a whole body (sans brain) has developed from the original clump of cells, as opposed to simply a leg? And if so, what and why?

52. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #48:

“You’ve lost me. Why would someone need a right to be carried to term after being born?”

You missed the words “or its equivalent”; I had in mind specifically nursing for the case between birth and reception class; and compulsory transfusion subsequently.

I said:
“Do you support my right to a blood transfusion from you in a situation where your blood is the only match available, and I require a transfusion to save my life?”

You said
“I can see the argument for supporting that, but I don’t at present.”

How about a kidney?

“I suspect you’ve mistaken me for a pro-lifer, though.”

Anti-abortion, perhaps… But looking back, devil’s advocate perhaps.

53. Watchman

XXX @30,

“The key weakness of the foetuses are people argument is that by ascribing rights to the foetus they have to then explain why the rights of one person (the foetus) trump those of another (the pregnant person).”

The right to life is more important than the right not to be inconvenienced. Since those are generally the conflicting rights (except in circumstances when giving birth would threaten the mother’s life), the foetus’ right to life should be protected over the mothers’ right not to be inconvenienced by being pregnant.

No one human right is more important than another – they should all be valued equally, or we end up with only the most important because it trumps all the others, which can then be disregarded.

But aside from that, I have no problem with you opting to try and keep foetuses alive if you wish. Just don’t expect the person who is carrying them but does not want to do so to have to do it – you’ll have to find another way.

“one (putative) person’s rights trump another’s. I don’t think we can ever allow that as a judgement in a democracy”

We can, and do all the time. If I were to commit a spree of violent crimes, I would quite rightly be sent to gaol and thereby deprived of my right to liberty, because my right to liberty is less important in this case than other people’s rights not to be horribly attacked. If I were to incite people to murder, most people would consider my right to freedom of speech to be less important than others’ right not to get murdered. Similarly, my right to do what I want with my body doesn’t mean that I can punch you in the face, because your right not to get punched is considered more important.

Erm, your right to do what you want with your body does not allow you to do anything to anyone else’s body without consent – your right to your body concerns what it done to it not what it does to others. Punching me in the face might be tempting, but it is a clear violation of my right to control my body, not an exercise in your right to control your body. You need to stop considering the world in such an egocentric way and recognise that rights stop at the next person’s rights, not at the end of your reach.

And if you commit a crime, you can indeed be punished. But for this analogy to work, getting pregnant has to be a crime – or more likely, having sex might become a criminal activity. If you want to argue that fine, but otherwise the analogy of violent crime or incitement to murder does not fit.

“unless you believe in capital and corporal punishment as well?”

Presumably, because you think that nobody’s rights should ever be allowed to trump another’s, you’re against all laws and legal systems whatsoever?

No – but I believe law should be based on recognising rights. You fail to understand that a right to control your own body does not mean you can hit people with it, but rather that you can expect people not to hit you without consent. If you then hit someone, you should indeed be punished.

So consensual sex that leads to pregnancy is not as far as I can see something that can be punished (no rights were breached), so how is it right to punish one participant in the act (and only one) by forcing that person to carry an unwanted person around with them for longer than the prison sentance someone who punched me in the face would be likely to receive?

54. Chaise Guevara

@ steveb

“Please explain how my remarks are ‘disingenous nonsense’”

Well, you seem to be saying that the abortion issue resolves itself because morality is personal. Which seems to ignore the fact that the woman is not the only person in the equation: the z/e/f doesn’t get a say, and from a pro-life perspective, its interests should be protected.

“Rubbish, I wasn’t pretending anything, I was merely arguing from a different perspective – that women who want abortions will not base their decisions on the values/morals of Pro Life or on scientific grounds. You are now being disingenous”

Conflated you with someone else there, sorry.

55. Chaise Guevara

@ 51 Robin

“#20 said foetuses *are* alive…”

Are we reading the same thread? Here’s the opening line of #20: “scientifically speaking, an organisms “life” begins at birth does it not?”

How can you possibly be reading that as them saying foetuses are alive?

“No; I am assuming that what you mean by “life” is “human life” and addressing that issue. The fact that something is simply “alive” doesn’t entitle it to any particular rights or even consideration; it is the claimed humanity of that life which raises any issues. The immediate capability of sentience is an essential component of what most people mean by human life.”

Well, again, I said nothing about rights or privileges, and I was talking about life in general, which includes human life. If cats and dogs begin life at conception, but humans begin life halfway through the pregancy, there’s something odd going on with the terminology in use. Life is life. Scientifically, there’s nothing special about human life. We’re just another type of animal.

I don’t think people assume sentience is a component of human life, either. If you have a human that is alive, you have a human life.

“I assume that you agree that the bundle of differentiated cells forming an apparently human leg in the photograph may be alive, but it is not human life. If that is so, and yet your view is that human life begins at conception, at what point did that bundle of differentiated cells cease to be human life? My view is that it never became human life.”

I don’t know enough science to decide if it’s human life or not. I suspect it is. If it ever WAS human life, I assume it remains so until it dies. You can’t change species.

“Again; are HeLa cells human life?”

I don’t know what they are, sorry.

“They are a live embryo and a live plant respectively. Neither is human life. If the live embryo never develops a functioning brain, what was it at the developmental stages prior to those at which the brain should have formed and begun functioning? Human life, or something else?”

Human. Look, you seem to be using the word “human” metaphorically, as if it’s some kind of ideal about a thinking creature. “Human” is a species, regardless of the individual’s stage of development.

56. Chaise Guevara

@ 52 Robin Levett

“You missed the words “or its equivalent”; I had in mind specifically nursing for the case between birth and reception class; and compulsory transfusion subsequently.”

Isn’t it murder to abandon an infant that can’t feed itself? In other words, that infants rights are protected far more strongly in law than a post-24-weeks foetus?

“How about a kidney?”

To clarify: I don’t currently believe we have the right to forcibly remove parts of other people’s bodies. To anticipate your next question, I also generally don’t believe we have the right to “borrow” people’s bodies against their will.

Exceptions exist. If I agree to hold onto you as you leaned over a cliff, then let go out of boredom, allowing you to fall to your death, I don’t think I should get away with it on the basis that “it was my body and whether or not I continued to hold on was my decision and nobody else’s”. So I don’t think the analogies all stack up in abortion’s favour.

“Anti-abortion, perhaps… But looking back, devil’s advocate perhaps.”

Cards on the table: I sit on the fence in the abortion debate, but count myself as pro-choice on the basis that, if I were in charge of the world, I would not ban abortion on demand.

I also happen to think that this particular debate gets more than its fair share of ridiculous arguments, and it annoys me that pro-choicers will often defend ridiculous statements just because the statement was made by a fellow choicer (ditto pro-lifers). So in a debate between strong choicers and strong lifers, I tend to sit in the middle.

@ 53:

“No one human right is more important than another – they should all be valued equally,”

Then how do you propose we decide what to do in situations when rights come into conflict? Flip a coin?

“or we end up with only the most important because it trumps all the others, which can then be disregarded.”

Just because one right is trumped by another, that right isn’t “disregarded”. Say we assume that your right not to get murdered is more important than my right to freedom of speech; if I were to go out and advocate that people murder you, I would be stopped, but I would still be able to say what I want in other circumstances. My right to freedom of speech would not therefore be disregarded, it would just be outweighed in one particular instance by your right not to get murdered.

“Erm, your right to do what you want with your body does not allow you to do anything to anyone else’s body without consent”

I agree, that’s why I wrote “my right to do what I want with my body doesn’t mean that I can punch you in the face”.

“your right to your body concerns what it done to it not what it does to others.”

OK, let’s pick another example: free speech and libel. Whichever way you decide, you’re going to have to say that one person’s rights trump another’s (either my right to freedom of speech trumps your right not to get libelled, or vice versa).

“And if you commit a crime, you can indeed be punished. But for this analogy to work, getting pregnant has to be a crime”

No, the point of the analogy is that we can and do consider one person’s rights to trump another’s. All the time. If you can say that somebody’s right not to be made a victim of crime is more important than somebody else’s right to liberty, I don’t see why you can’t say that a foetus’ right to life is more important than a mother’s right not to be inconvenienced.

58. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #55:

“Are we reading the same thread?”

We are, but it seems that I read birth in #20 as conception. It all makes sense given that initial mistake… Sorry.

“HeLa cells”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeLa

The rest of #55: You must know that one of the favourite anti-abortion images is of a holocaust of unborn children; that by permitting abortion we are willing accomplices to the murder of millions of human beings. That crucially depends upon the conflation of the existence of a living organism in the human womb – the z/e/f – with the existence of a human being entitled to rights of continued support. The claim that life begins at conception is actually a claim that “human life” begins at conception. Nobody is campaigning against abortion of cats and dogs. I don’t disagree that the z/e/f, of whatever species, is alive; the question is what rights one assigns to it, and to consider that one needs to consider the nature of the life.

59. Robin Levett

@XXX #57:

“…a mother’s right not to be inconvenienced.”

Or killed; even the most uncomplicated pregnancy is not risk-free for the mother, and abortion is safer than bearing the foetus to term.

60. Chaise Guevara

@ Robin Levett

“We are, but it seems that I read birth in #20 as conception. It all makes sense given that initial mistake… Sorry.”

No problemo.

“HeLa cells”

I had a glance at Wikipedia already, but I couldn’t see anything about whether or not they count as living organisms. It says they’re cancer cells, which could mean anything from human tissue to fucked-up human (your twin-baby-tumour thing).

“You must know that one of the favourite anti-abortion images is of 2a holocaust of unborn children; that by permitting abortion we are willing accomplices to the murder of millions of human beings. That crucially depends upon the conflation of the existence of a living organism in the human womb – the z/e/f – with the existence of a human being entitled to rights of continued support. The claim that life begins at conception is actually a claim that “human life” begins at conception.”

Y’see, that actually seems like the conflation is on your end as far as this conversation goes. I simply hold that a z/e/f is, scientifically, alive, and that it’s silly to claim otherwise in an attempt to muddy the water (a la #20). You’re the one conflating that statement with the idea that it should have rights. I’m really not arguing that – I blow hot and cold on the issue myself – I just wanted to address a point where someone seemed to be using made-up science.

“Nobody is campaigning against abortion of cats and dogs. I don’t disagree that the z/e/f, of whatever species, is alive; the question is what rights one assigns to it, and to consider that one needs to consider the nature of the life.”

Sure, absolutely.

XXX @ 57

I don’t see why you can’t say that a foetus’ right to life is more important than a mother’s right not to be inconvenienced.

You can say what you like, but you are suggesting that the State has the final judgement in what the woman in any abortion case must be made to feel. I cannot see why anyone would want to intervene in a case where a pregnant woman felt that she could not carry that foetus to term. I genuinely cannot see what is to be gained from denying that woman the right to a legal abortion.

All this talk about Jews in concentration camps, toddlers in dysfunctional families etc are just silly diversions.

If you feel that all the evidence (scientific and moral) points to life beginning at conception, then never have an abortion, and I will support your right not to have an abortion, but to attempt to stop other people the right to examine the evidence and make a judgement for fear they may come up with the ‘wrong’ conclusion is a pretty poor show, in my book.

@60

I simply hold that a z/e/f is, scientifically, alive, and that it’s silly to claim otherwise in an attempt to muddy the water (a la #20).

Doesn’t that make cooking scrambled eggs on a moral par with abortion?

Oops nevermind. Posted before reading further.

64. Chaise Guevara

LOL, no worries, Cylux.

@ 59:

“Or killed; even the most uncomplicated pregnancy is not risk-free for the mother, and abortion is safer than bearing the foetus to term.”

If the mother’s life would be seriously endangered by carrying the foetus to term, then I think a lot of pro-lifers would be prepared to accept her having an abortion. In a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, however, the (tiny) risk to the mother isn’t enough to outweigh the certainty of killing off the foetus.

@ 61:

“I genuinely cannot see what is to be gained from denying that woman the right to a legal abortion.”

Other than saving a (as pro-lifers see it) innocent baby from a needless death?

“If you feel that all the evidence (scientific and moral) points to life beginning at conception, then never have an abortion, and I will support your right not to have an abortion, but to attempt to stop other people the right to examine the evidence and make a judgement for fear they may come up with the ‘wrong’ conclusion is a pretty poor show, in my book.”

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of all laws. If you feel that all the evidence points to murder/rape/theft/&c. being wrong, then don’t murder/rape/steal from anybody, and I will support your right not to do so, but attempting to stop other people from examining the evidence and making a judgement for fear they may come up with the “wrong” conclusion is a pretty poor show, in my book.

@66 Sigh.
If abortions are made illegal, what punishment should women who get an illegal abortion face?

@ 67:

I haven’t really thought about it, but “Is abortion wrong?” is a different issue to “How should getting an abortion be punished (if indeed it should)?”

@68 If your aim is to affect public policy on the matter in some fashion, then no it really isn’t. If you codify abortion as “wrong”, i.e. it is illegal to have one, it then follows that some form of punishment must be meted out to those who break the law. For example with drugs laws possession is criminalised even if the intention and quantity possessed is just for your own personal use. Plus, once you’ve concluded that a foetus should be accorded the full gamut of human rights, doesn’t that make women aborting to avoid being “inconvenienced”, killers? That they’ve taken the premeditated active step to murder their own unborn child? To commit infanticide? Should not the book be thrown at them? And if there should be no “just punishment” for women who break the law, is there much point in outlawing abortion in the first place? An unenforced law is no law at all.

Now the current situation appears to be a somewhat ‘happy’ median, in that while abortion is legal it contains many caveats – within the first 24 weeks only and two doctors must decide that the risk to a woman’s physical or mental health or the risk to her child(ren)’s physical or mental health will be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it. Perhaps this is where the debate really lies – are sufficient caveats in place? If not, how many caveats will be? And if caveats are not enough, and elective abortion must be banned, then you return to needing to find an answer to the question – what punishment for lawbreakers is enough?

If you’re just discussing the morality of abortion for the sake of discussing simply the morality however, then yes, they are different and separate issues.

Hmm. Should really have used proviso rather than caveat there.

71. Robin Levett

@XXX #65:

“If the mother’s life would be seriously endangered by carrying the foetus to term, then I think a lot of pro-lifers would be prepared to accept her having an abortion. In a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, however, the (tiny) risk to the mother isn’t enough to outweigh the certainty of killing off the foetus.”

One: The risk is non-zero; which is enough to make your use of “inconvenience to the mother” emotive rather than accurate.

Two: Less than half of legal abortions in the UK are of foetuses; 60% are at less than 10 weeks.

@ 71:

“One: The risk is non-zero; which is enough to make your use of “inconvenience to the mother” emotive rather than accurate.”

The risk may be non-zero, but it’s nevertheless tiny. Also, I doubt many women who want an abortion even in the case of an ordinary, complication-free pregnancy do so because they are worried about the risk of having some kind of complication.

“Two: Less than half of legal abortions in the UK are of foetuses; 60% are at less than 10 weeks.”

I could change “foetus” to “zygote/embryo/foetus” if it will make you happier.

In terms of punishment. If abortion is made illegal it will have been done so on the basis that the death of a ‘person’ is involved. Therefore logically the penalty should be the same for any other premeditated murder.

Of course following that logic anyone who suffered a natural abortion should be tried for manslaughter.

As for when ‘life’ starts that’s the kicker. If we humans are special what makes us that way compared to other forms of life? If we say sentience what’s a test of that? The ability to recognise oneself? The ability to forward-plan? If so then elephants, apes, dolphins and even crows could be deemed sentient.

As it stands it seems the only reason we deem human life as special is because we say it is; and I suspect that sadly that’s not a belief that’s going to be shaken off. So any argument about why does human life starts at conception, but a cat’s or dog’s start at birth is a non-starter – it’s because we’re special.

@73 Heh, funny you should mention carrying on the logic:
http://www.care2.com/causes/womens-rights/blog/georgia-rep-investigate-miscarriage

75. Robin Levett

@XXX #72:

“The risk may be non-zero, but it’s nevertheless tiny.”

For the families of 50-odd women who die in the UK annually as a result of pregnancy I am sure that is a great comfort.

“Also, I doubt many women who want an abortion even in the case of an ordinary, complication-free pregnancy do so because they are worried about the risk of having some kind of complication.”

I have never suggested they do. My point is simply that your reference to a “mother’s right not to be inconvenienced” dismisses a whole gamut of different effects of forcing the mother to carry the pregnancy to term ranging up to and including killing her.

76. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #60:

HeLa cells: not only do they retain their physical integrity, they reproduce – it seems to me that they are alive. The issue is whether they are human in any morally or legally meaningful way.

“Y’see, that actually seems like the conflation is on your end as far as this conversation goes. I simply hold that a z/e/f is, scientifically, alive, and that it’s silly to claim otherwise in an attempt to muddy the water (a la #20). You’re the one conflating that statement with the idea that it should have rights.”

I entirely agree that a z/e/f is alive. My point is directed at the point at which it becomes human, and the (possibly different) point at which it gets rights because to the anti-abortion campaigner all those points are the same point – conception.

77. Chaise Guevara

It becomes human at conception, because it IS human and that’s the moment it comes into existence. There’s no need to automatically assign rights on that basis.

78. Robin Levett

@Chaise Guevara #77:

“There’s no need to automatically assign rights on that basis.”

Agreed.

“It becomes human at conception, because it IS human and that’s the moment it comes into existence.”

Sorry – my previous post was missing an indefinite article; should have read “a human”.

The material of which the blastoscyst is composed is human (in the same sense that the pictured leg is human); and the blastocyst is alive (in the same sense that a HeLa cell is alive). That much we agree on.

The “life begins at conception” anti-abortion crowd, however, go beyond this. They say that as the blastocyst is human and alive, abortion is murder; they conflate its livingness and its humanness with it being a living human. My response is that while the material may be human and alive, it is not a live human. It is a potential live human being – but it is also a potential independent leg, or a potential fetus in fetu, or even potentially spontaneously aborted material (more likely than anything else, by the way) – the potential has not been actualised. Calling it a live human means either that the pictured leg is still a live human, or it ceased to be a live human somewhere along the way – but where? Calling its “killing” murder is nonsense.

@ 75:

“For the families of 50-odd women who die in the UK annually as a result of pregnancy I am sure that is a great comfort.”

Red herring/appeal to emotion. No doubt their families are very upset; but that doesn’t change the fact that such instances make up a tiny proportion of total pregnancies.

80. Robin Levett

@XXX #79:

“Red herring/appeal to emotion.”

At last – we’re getting somewhere. So will you drop the “just to save the mother a little inconvenience” red herring/appeal to emotion?

XXX @ 66

Other than saving a (as pro-lifers see it) innocent baby from a needless death

Well quite apart from the fact that we should ask where the anti abortionists get the authority to decide for everyone else that an innocent baby has been saved, what makes you so sure that you have saved that child? What is to stop thatwoman having an illegal abortion? You cannot possibily change that woman’s mind on this issue, can you?

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of all laws

You see, this is where you lose the debate, no-one here is suggesting that we scrap all laws, in fact, no-one is attempting to equate abortion with murder, either. Everyone knows that murder, rape and the rest are real crimes, even if you people cannot.

What people like you don’t get is that for many women, abortion is something they come to desire for difficult reasons. Sure, for some women, it may just be something they do without a second thought, but for many women, they come to that decision after a lot of soul-searching. For you to conflate the moral dilemma that much woman face with regard to abortion as the same as a fight down the pub is morally repugnant to me.

What about this for a crazy idea? Instead of shrill moralising on this issue, if you really wanted to save the innocent babies caught in the cross fire; why not campaign to make young mother’s lives better?

Why not campaign for better maternity leave for working mothers or better housing for pregnant mothers for example?

Do you concede that if benefit reforms make it harder for pregnant mothers, it will raise the number of abortions?

This is nothing to do with the ‘innocent’ babies, because for the majority of anti abortionists, they are all for saving the child, right up to birth and then WHAM, that child ceases to be an ‘innocent baby’, but a scrounger on the dole.

When I see anti abortists outside Tory head office campaigning for better protection for mothers, I might take you guys seriously.

82. Chaise Guevara

@ 78 Robin Levitt

“Calling its “killing” murder is nonsense.”

Meh. I think this one is a judgment call. If you mean “murder” in the strict legal sense then it’s nonsense (at least in this country), because “murder” refers to unlawful killing. In the colloquial sense it just means “killing I disapprove of”, really. Some vegetarians say meat is murder.

I can see why you think it’s ridiculous to conflate the killing of a functioning human with the killing of a small bundle of human cells. But I think one of the problems with this debate is people getting into petty and pointless battles over terminology (“it’s not a baby, it’s a foetus!” “it’s not termination, it’s killing!”). I’d just treat it as the appeal to emotion that it is.

@ 80:

“At last – we’re getting somewhere. So will you drop the “just to save the mother a little inconvenience” red herring/appeal to emotion?”

Like I said above, most people — even pro-lifers — would accept abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. What gets people worked up is when a woman has an abortion despite having no compelling medical reason to do so, because she doesn’t want to carry the foetus to term.

@ 81:

“Well quite apart from the fact that we should ask where the anti abortionists get the authority to decide for everyone else that an innocent baby has been saved”

One might equally ask what gives the pro-choicers the authority to decide that a foetus doesn’t count as a human, and that aborting it is therefore OK.

“what makes you so sure that you have saved that child? What is to stop thatwoman having an illegal abortion?”

As Chaise pointed out above, evidence suggests that countries which legalise abortion have significantly higher rates of abortion than countries which don’t. So whilst it’s probably impossible to reduce the number of abortions down to zero — just like it’s impossible to reduce the number of thefts, assaults, &c. to zero — it’s still possible to significantly reduce their number.

As for the next part of your post: surely you can’t be suggesting that somebody says “Oh yes, I think that a foetus is a human, and that aborting it is therefore murder, but I’m not going to do anything to try and stop it happening”? Because that position is far more morally repugnant than saying that abortion is like murder.

“This is nothing to do with the ‘innocent’ babies, because for the majority of anti abortionists, they are all for saving the child, right up to birth and then WHAM, that child ceases to be an ‘innocent baby’, but a scrounger on the dole.”

Evidence?

85. Chaise Guevara

@ 81 Jim

“This is nothing to do with the ‘innocent’ babies, because for the majority of anti abortionists, they are all for saving the child, right up to birth and then WHAM, that child ceases to be an ‘innocent baby’, but a scrounger on the dole.”

While that’s true in some cases, it’s hardly reasonable to project that onto XXX.

“When I see anti abortists outside Tory head office campaigning for better protection for mothers, I might take you guys seriously.”

How would you know they were anti-abortionists? If a pro-lifer was out campaigning for the wellbeing of mothers, they’d be waving placard about that, not abortion.

Also, do you often hang out around Tory HQ to tally the protesters?

XXX @ 84

One might equally ask what gives the pro-choicers the authority to decide that a foetus doesn’t count as a human, and that aborting it is therefore OK.

I think we are suggesting that are willing to leave that to woman who is going to making that difficult decision, herself. She should be free to look at any evidence she sees fit and make an informed choice, as best she can. I am not claiming any authority as such, I am more than happy for each person in that unfortunate predicament to leave it to her individual conscience. The anti abortionists are attempting to remove that choice from the woman involved.

As Chaise pointed out above, evidence suggests that countries which legalise abortion have significantly higher rates of abortion than countries which don’t.

Hmm, a bit like asking a farmer why the gate is always built at the muddiest part of the field. The abortion rate in the British Isles is higher than in Ireland, but then again, the Irish come here for abortions.

Could it be that Countries that have more unwanted pregnancies are more likely to see the advantage in a pragmatic approach to abortions?

As for the next part of your post: surely you can’t be suggesting that somebody says “Oh yes, I think that a foetus is a human, and that aborting it is therefore murder, but I’m not going to do anything to try and stop it happening”? Because that position is far more morally repugnant than saying that abortion is like murder.

I would expect them to say, ‘I think abortion is murder, and therefore I will never have an abortion’, why they feel they wish to impose their on beliefs onto someone else is just nonsense. Anymore than someone who believed that meat is murder and then attempted to impose a complete ban on meat.

Evidence?

I have been using online forums for at least ten years or so and every time this debate comes up, it is the Right that are anti abortion, the same people who would happily stop unmarried mothers getting council housing and/or child benefit or single parent benefit.

If changes in the benefit system was shown to increase the number of abortions, would you campaign to stop such changes?

“Could it be that Countries that have more unwanted pregnancies are more likely to see the advantage in a pragmatic approach to abortions?”

The evidence suggests that legalising abortion leads to higher levels of abortion in that same country compared to the levels before legalisation. So no, I don’t think so.

“I would expect them to say, ‘I think abortion is murder, and therefore I will never have an abortion’, why they feel they wish to impose their on beliefs onto someone else is just nonsense.”

So if you happened to see somebody getting murdered in the street, presumably you’d do nothing in order to avoid imposing your beliefs on the murderer?

“I have been using online forums”

So basically, anecdote based upon what is possibly an very unrepresentative sample. Got any better evidence?

XXX @ 89

So if you happened to see somebody getting murdered in the street, presumably you’d do nothing in order to avoid imposing your beliefs on the murderer?

Eh? Now you are being stupid, aren’t you?

If you really wanted to campaign against abortion, why not invest in a charity that helped women thinking of having abortions get he help they need to bring their children up? Surely that would stop abortions?

Why not set up such a charity yourself?

XXX

If changes in the benefit system was shown to increase the number of abortions, would you campaign to stop such changes?

90. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim

“I think we are suggesting that are willing to leave that to woman who is going to making that difficult decision, herself. She should be free to look at any evidence she sees fit and make an informed choice, as best she can. I am not claiming any authority as such, I am more than happy for each person in that unfortunate predicament to leave it to her individual conscience. The anti abortionists are attempting to remove that choice from the woman involved. ”

Seriously, this only works if you consider the z/e/f to be a non-person. If you consider it to be a person, as pro-lifers do, then giving her the choice to have an abortion is like unbanning murder and saying “I want to leave it up to individual choice”.

Pro-lifers think that the z/e/f is a person (simplified version for space reasons). If you’re going to discuss things with lifers, you HAVE to be able to understand that. You don’t have to agree, but if you pretend it isn’t the case you’ll just end up straw manning people.

“Hmm, a bit like asking a farmer why the gate is always built at the muddiest part of the field. The abortion rate in the British Isles is higher than in Ireland, but then again, the Irish come here for abortions. ”

Can we lay this one to rest? American birth rates dropped following Roe vs Wade: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1508542/ . There’s also analysis in the book Freakonomics that says that legalising abortion brought the crime rate down about 15-20 years later, because unwanted kids were more likely to end up as criminals (for socioeconomic reasons more than as a direct result of being unwanted).

“I would expect them to say, ‘I think abortion is murder, and therefore I will never have an abortion’, why they feel they wish to impose their on beliefs onto someone else is just nonsense. Anymore than someone who believed that meat is murder and then attempted to impose a complete ban on meat.”

If you believed meat was murder, banning meat would be the correct thing to do.

Let’s substitute something else in your sentence:

“”I would expect them to say, ‘I think shooting people in the head is murder, and therefore I will never shoot anyone in the head’, why they feel they wish to impose their on beliefs onto someone else is just nonsense.”

Does your laissez-faire approach to morality still hold?

91. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim

“Eh? Now you are being stupid, aren’t you?”

Sigh. XXX’s question is valid. It’s bad enough that you’re dodging it, but calling him/her names on top of that is just weak.

Chaise @ 90

“”I would expect them to say, ‘I think shooting people in the head is murder, and therefore I will never shoot anyone in the head’, why they feel they wish to impose their on beliefs onto someone else is just nonsense.”

Nobody is suggesting that, though Chaise, are they? No one is saying that shooting someone in the head is about ‘beliefs’. Abortion is different because cells in a womb are just that, cells. Now human being are cells too, but not only cells, they are living breathing human beings that are able to live independently. The fact that someone, anyone, with the level of autonomy required to live outside the womb is not just a collection of cells, but an actual person in their own right. Even if that person is in a wheelchair or mentally incapacitated, or appears ‘valueless’ to others, that person is still a human being.

If you or ‘XXX’ are genuinely unable to distinguish in any moral sense between a human being walking down the street and a collection of cells in a womb, then either of you would really need to examine your moral compass before coming to this debate.

Anyway, a position of ‘I think abortion is wrong, therefore it should be banned is not really the best place to start’. Irrespective of whether we like it or not there is a need for abortion in this Country, not least because of the threat of illegal abortion taking place. I don’t like abortion; I am not ‘actually’ pro abortion and if another abortion never took place from NOW, I would be quite happy. But wishing or even legislating abortion away is not the answer. Abortions are not a simple Right/Wrong debate; it is a highly complex issue with many conflicting views and desires.

Trying to bring into a ‘shooting people in the head’, ‘murder in the street’, ‘Jews killed by Nazis’ tropes totally ignores the social/economic/political aspects of this debate. I understand why anti abortionists do this; it absolves them from engaging into the meat of the debate at hand.

Abortion was not made legal on a whim. No one (well not Sir David Steele, anyway) suddenly woke up and thought ‘Hey! I just had a wonderful idea’. Abortion has been a fact of life from before Victorian times, at least and evidence exists pointing back to medieval England and before. Legal abortion just made the process safer for the mother and arguably, more humane. You cannot put the genie back into the bottle, banning abortion will not suddenly make these children wanted, easier to treat or cheaper to look after. Nor will banning abortion make that desire go away

I believe there are far too many abortions in this Country and I also believe that many abortions are completely needless as well.

Now, if you really want to significantly cut the number of abortions; and I do, then you need to look at the underlying causes of abortions in this Country.

That is a harder question to answer and one that the Right are very reluctant to engage in, which is why these threads end up talking about murder in the street.

93. Richard W

If a foetus has a right to be born. Does it not also have the right to have the best chance of being born in good health? Why would the right to be born be more important than the right to be born in good health when good health is obviously better than bad health?

Therefore, logically you folks who feel they have the right to compel a woman to continue with an unwanted pregnancy should also compel her to lead a lifestyle whilst pregnant most conducive to producing a healthy baby. In your world, legally restricting a woman’s consumption of drugs, tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy should be unremarkable. Moreover, she should be compelled to follow a healthy diet during the pregnancy. After all, her choices are not the only consideration. A sentient being would choose to be healthy over being unhealthy. Therefore, we must assume a baby would prefer to be born with the best chance of health over being born unhealthy. There really is no limit to the control that one can exert over a woman when she is considered a human incubator.

Have we moved onto the Quality of life versus Quantity of life sides of the debate yet? That’s always a good one to rake over.

@ 92:

“Abortion is different because cells in a womb are just that, cells.”

Erm, no. You said that even if somebody thinks a foetus is human, and therefore that abortion is murder, they still shouldn’t try and impose this belief on others by banning abortions. You can’t try and wriggle out by saying “Well, abortion and murder aren’t really the same thing”.

@ 93:

Do you think that the State should regulate the food a mother is allowed to feed her children after that child is born?

@ 92:

“Nobody is suggesting that, though Chaise, are they?”

Nobody is suggesting it because it’s an obviously stupid idea. Just like “Even if you think abortion is murder, you shouldn’t do anything to stop it” is an obviously stupid idea.

98. Richard W

No.

@ 98:

Well, assuming that you don’t agree with mothers killing their children after they’ve born (when they’re unarguably human), shouldn’t your logic in post no. 93 dictate that we tell mothers what they can and can’t feed their sprogs? If children have a right not to get murdered, then they surely have a right to a healthy life, after all.

XXX @ 95

Erm, no. You said that even if somebody thinks a foetus is human, and therefore that abortion is murder, they still shouldn’t try and impose this belief on others by banning abortions. You can’t try and wriggle out by saying “Well, abortion and murder aren’t really the same thing”.

But nobody is trying to wriggle out of anything, though. Clearly, even by your own argument, you accept that the life of the mother is of more ‘value’ for want of a better word.

@ 83

Like I said above, most people — even pro-lifers — would accept abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

That implies that you would, in your own words, murder the baby, to save the mother. So let us use your own narrative device and transfer the child into the World of the corporeal and propel the scenario to it’s logical conclusion.

Let us imagine a woman with a severely retarded child about ten years old. If the mothers mental health was at so much risk without respite care would we allow a practicing doctor the ‘right’ to commit euthanasia on the child to save the mother from suicide?

The answer is no, we would not. And to be honest, it is not a fair question, because we both accept, as is implicit in your statement @83, that a corporeal child is different than a foetus. How else can we interpret your statement @ 83 than an admission that when examining two lives, we would wilfully kill one to save another? Is the child @ 83 less human because its growth threatens the mother? Is it less innocent? Why is it acceptable to kill the child than the mother in this instance?

We both know we cannot catapult the position regarding a foetus into a fully grown, corporeal child, because it is not an analogous position.

101. Richard W

No not at all. If the wider community had cause for believing a child was being intentionally malnourished, then the wider community retain the right the right to remove the child from the parent. However, I do not recognise you or anyone else having the right to compel someone to be pregnant. Instead of asking me what I would do, why not admit that the logic of your position dictates that you should have full control over the choices a woman makes while pregnant. Moreover, would you charge her if she induced a miscarriage during strenuous exercise? Are there any limits to the control that you would exercise over pregnant women?

I take my hat off to you guys on here who are still arguing with our “all sperm is precious” trolls.

.
To these people Cells in a dish are more important than babies who have been born. Pro life my arse!

XXX @ 99

Then you are houisted by your own petard. If that woman is unable to provide that child with the environment to survive to the best of its ability then are we, as a State, not failing that child? Does that not mean that every child being born should become a ward of the State until they are 18?

@ 100:

“But nobody is trying to wriggle out of anything, though.”

You originally said (paraphrased) “Even if somebody thinks that abortion is murder, they shouldn’t try to stop people having them.” I asked whether we should decriminalise murder and leave it up to individuals to decide whether it was wrong, which is the same attitude as you suggest pro-lifers adopt. You then claimed that the two were different, because abortion isn’t murder. Except that according to this hypothetic pro-lifer, it is. Your argument only makes sense to somebody who already agrees with you about the z/e/f not being a human.

So I’ll ask you again: what is the difference between “Even if you think abortion is murder, you shouldn’t try to stop it” and “You shouldn’t try to stop any murders”? And no, “a bundle of cells doesn’t count as life” isn’t an adequate argument.

“That implies that you would, in your own words, murder the baby, to save the mother.”

If I had a choice between letting one person die and letting two people die, I’d pick the former. So what? That doesn’t mean I don’t consider them both to be people.

“Let us imagine a woman with a severely retarded child about ten years old. If the mothers mental health was at so much risk without respite care would we allow a practicing doctor the ‘right’ to commit euthanasia on the child to save the mother from suicide?”

If the mother really couldn’t cope, the child could be adopted/taken into care. That option isn’t really available with foetuses.

@ 101:

“No not at all. If the wider community had cause for believing a child was being intentionally malnourished, then the wider community retain the right the right to remove the child from the parent.”

And if the mother were too malnourished to support the child properly, she should be given food.

“Instead of asking me what I would do, why not admit that the logic of your position dictates that you should have full control over the choices a woman makes while pregnant”

I don’t see why that logic goes away once the child is born. Surely one would have to accept an equal amount of State control once the baby is actually born?

@ 103:

“Then you are houisted by your own petard. If that woman is unable to provide that child with the environment to survive to the best of its ability then are we, as a State, not failing that child? Does that not mean that every child being born should become a ward of the State until they are 18?”

I suggest you take the issue up with Richard W.

XXX @ 104

No, do not put words into my mouth. I freely admit that I am not the most articulate person who uses this board, but I am still capable of putting my on views across.

He is what I am saying.

If someone looks at the evidence and morality behind abortion and they conclude that they think abortion is tantamount to murder, then they should strive never to commit abortion, lest they be committing murder. However, they should also allow others to examine their conscience and draw their own conclusions.

.
That is clearly not the same as other actual murder cases, like shooting Jews or Muslims children etc, because these people are corporeal and living in the actual world as autonomous beings.

The state of the foetus or baby is about our own moral or ethical code. This should be judged on its merits by the people concerned. That is and will always be a personal choice as to the state of a foetus in the womb. I totally respect your views and the conclusion you have came to regarding where you ‘think’ life begins, but it is only where you ‘think’ it begins. That is as much as you can say. You may want to argue on how you define life, you may want to decide that life is formed at conception or during an arbitrary date on the life cycle, but it is only that, an opinion and a moral opinion.

Therefore, I cannot see how we can all be forced to accept such a date plucked out the air as the definitive date that a human being has came into existence. Science can tell when the first toenail is grown or the first eyelid moves etc, but it CANNOT tell us when a soul is created and therefore we cannot extend the law to cover that life without reservation. Put simply, there is no simple test at that point to define human life by.

You conclude where you think life exists based on your ethics, but I am forced to accept that in a grey area, others can have an equally valid claim to another date or other criteria and have legitimate claims.

The only logical conclusion I can see is that in such matters it comes down to the individual(s) concerned. In this case, the mother as the foetus is within her body.

Other cases like the Jew in a death camp, the slave on the slaver ship or whatever, it is fairly clear that these people ARE human and living as humans, even if the oppressors do not see it as such. There is a clear distinction between a living human and a foetus in the womb. No matter how we define a life as existing we declare life a Jewish Tailor or African slave has passed this test. So has a baby on a playmate or even on a life support machine for that matter.

If I had a choice between letting one person die and letting two people die, I’d pick the former. So what? That doesn’t mean I don’t consider them both to be people

But what if you had the chioce ofletting the mother OR the child die?

If the mother really couldn’t cope, the child could be adopted/taken into care. That option isn’t really available with foetuses.

The point is that we would both look to save the child. Fair enough, but you are willing to kill a child under some circumstances to save a ‘more important’ life. Don’t get me wrong I am not condemning you for it.

@ 107:

“If someone looks at the evidence and morality behind abortion and they conclude that they think abortion is tantamount to murder, then they should strive never to commit abortion, lest they be committing murder. However, they should also allow others to examine their conscience and draw their own conclusions.”

If someone looks at the evidence and morality behind shooting somebody in the head and they conclude that they think doing so is tantamount to murder, then they should strive never to shoot anybody, lest they be committing murder. However, they should also allow others to examine their conscience and draw their own conclusions.

“But what if you had the chioce ofletting the mother OR the child die?”

You know, I’m really not sure.

“The point is that we would both look to save the child. Fair enough, but you are willing to kill a child under some circumstances to save a ‘more important’ life.”

In pretty much all these circumstances, the foetus would die as well as the mother. So essentially it’s choosing to save one life instead of none.

109. Chaise Guevara

@ 92 Jim

“Nobody is suggesting that, though Chaise, are they? No one is saying that shooting someone in the head is about ‘beliefs’”

It is about beliefs, though. Specifically, the belief that killing people is wrong, all else being equal. The fact that this belief is shared by most civilised people does not mean that it is not a belief. You appear to be appealing to the majority, and that’s not rational.

Forgive me synopsising here, genuinely, but our posts are getting long. The rest of your post seems to be spent quite rightly pointing out the difference between a bundle of cells and a fully-functional human being. I happen to agree with you here. However, pro-lifers generally don’t, they normally place an embryo on equal or near-equal footing with an adult.

Now, the fact that you and pro-lifers disagree about this is obvious. It’s a big part of what makes you pro-choice and them pro-life. However, that’s no excuse to pretend that pro-lifers see things from a pro-choice viewpoint: specifically, to pretend that they ALSO think a zygote or embryo is insignificant, and that therefore they’re pushing their views on other people in a way that is distinct from the way we all push our views on other people by supporting the illegality of murder, theft and so on.

What you’re doing now is also done by pro-lifers, when they say “how come you pro-choicers are so happy to kill babies?” That’s not a fair question, because as far as you’re concerned, you’re NOT killing babies. You’re aborting a small number of cells. If you think it’s unreasonable for pro-lifers to say you deliberately kill children, you ought to extend the same courtesy and admit that pro-lifers are trying to protect what they see as a helpless organism, not just trying to interfere in someone’s private choice.

110. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim (again)

Your post also talked about the pragmatic reasons for keeping abortion legal, and pointed out that pro-choicers don’t necessarily like abortion, they just think it’s better to legalise it than ban it. I’m making another post to acknowledge this because I missed it when writing the post above, and I don’t want to ignore your arguments.

I agree with you on both counts. But it’s not a justification for misrepresenting pro-life arguments. And that’s the ONLY reason I’m arguing with you here. I’m pro-choice, and the reasons for keeping abortion legal are the same reasons I use to justify that. I just think we should be honest about what people on the other side of the fence think.

111. Chaise Guevara

“However, I do not recognise you or anyone else having the right to compel someone to be pregnant.”

Incidentally, this is a much better pro-choice argument.

112. Richard W

105. XXX

@ 101:

” And if the mother were too malnourished to support the child properly, she should be given food. ”

Does not appear to be related to any question asked.

You seem to have this bizarre belief that asking another question is answering a question. Otherwise known as being evasive.

“Instead of asking me what I would do, why not admit that the logic of your position dictates that you should have full control over the choices a woman makes while pregnant”

” I don’t see why that logic goes away once the child is born. Surely one would have to accept an equal amount of State control once the baby is actually born? ”

The state does exercise control in the interests of the welfare of children and that control takes precedence over the choices of the parent. Therefore, it is not a hypothetical scenario. However, the state does not exercise that control over pregnant women. Although, if you were being consistent then you should argue that it should.

“Science is a tool, and it is not apolitical.”
Hmm, how can empirical knowledge and logic be biased politically? Does evolution vote conservative?

114. Chaise Guevara

@ 113

“Hmm, how can empirical knowledge and logic be biased politically? Does evolution vote conservative?”

Science is USED politically.

XXX @ 108

In pretty much all these circumstances, the foetus would die as well as the mother. So essentially it’s choosing to save one life instead of none.

So, what would you do if the doctor/midwife prognosis concluded that during the actual birth, that the mother would be likely to die in the process or that the child’s life ‘Could’ be saved at the expense of the mother? Or would you deny a mother livesaving chemo or radiotherpapy because it would kill the child?

Or, in any of the above cases, the birth was twins for that matter? Would you let a mother die, against her wishes, to save her twins?

Now before you answer that, consider this:

Would any doctor in the World be likely to recommend a course of action that would force a woman to accept her death, so that the child (or children) may live? Or even that a law would be passed forcing the medical profession not to intervene in such a case?

The answer is obviously no; no one would really expect the medical profession or a mother to be forced into that decision. We would never bar a woman from life saving treatment, just because a law stopped abortion. We would offer the woman the choice on whether or not she would accept the treatment.

The thing is, we all know that and you know that too. It is a complete non question for most of us, because none of us could imagine a doctor telling a woman that she required a life saving treatment, but the Law stated her life was forfeit because she had a collection of cells in her womb that was busily on the route to becoming a baby.

In short, we make a value judgement and most of us value the life of the mother more than we value the potential life of those cells.

And that is at the crux of the matter. No matter how we juggle it about and the ups and downs and all the soul searching, when push came to shove most of would allow the mother the choice to decide whether or not she was more valuable than the child, because the mother has to live or die with the decision she makes.

So if the answer is ‘Yes’, I would force the mother to die to save the child (or children) that is a clearly a nonsense statement. However, if you answer ‘no’ to the question you are conceding that the mother is more valuable life, which means your position isentirely indefensible.

Chaise@ 109

Fair enough, this thread is comming to a natural conclusion, so subject to anything of value being said in the next few hours, here is my final contribution to the subject.

The problem that the pro-lifers have is that you have to measure what they say against what actually happens in the real World.

I genuinely cannot see how we are to proceed with an argument that needs to start of with a declaration that all ‘six billion of us are fair game, at the moment, and that we are all just a collection of cells’.

Clearly the anti abortionists position is untenable on this. To attempt to rationalise this position by equating a living human beings being shot in the street with an aborted foetus is completely nonsense.

I have tried to think through this argument through from my viewpoint. I have struggled, but my best stab at it is this:

I am against hunting whales and vivisection. I find both repugnant, but, with the best will in the World, I cannot equate the crew of a whaling ship with a mass murderer. If we assume that a murderer kills (like all the best Agatha Christie novels) for the inheritance, and the whaler is also killing for money, they are not the moral equivalent. To pretend otherwise is silly. Nor do I equate animal experimentation on chimps as the same as Doctor Mengele on Jewish children. I am sorry, I cannot see it.

In both cases I can see the clear distinction between these groups.

117. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim (though I suspect you won’t read this as this thread has dropped off the main page)

I agree. Whether abortion is right or wrong, it’s difficult to equate it to killing a living human being. Even leaving aside the fact that a z/e/f is a bundle of cells, a living human being has relationships and their death will generally hurt a number of people very badly indeed. If I were a doctor dealing with a complication in pregnancy on a mother who had told me to prioritise the child’s life over hers, a large part of me would want to ignore that command.

The way I’m using the “shooting people in the head” thing – and I think XXX is too, though I can’t be certain – is not to say that this act is equivalent to abortion. You could replace murder with theft, drink-driving or any other non-victimless crime, and the argument would be the same.

The point being made here is that IF you believe that the z/e/f counts as a person, the idea that banning abortion is an attempt to impose your will on a situation that only affects one person (the mother) doesn’t stand. From that POV, you are imposing your will to protect another person (the z/e/f). You are very welcome to disagree with the premise that the z/e/f is a person, but it’s unfair to act as if pro-lifer also reject that premise.

I realise you may well have gotten my point already, I just want to clarify that I’m not conflating abortion with murder.

Chaise @118

Okay, Chaise, this will be my last word on this thread as it disappears over the horizon.

The shoot someone in the head vs abortion analogy simply does not hold water. I maintain that the abortion issue must, essentially remain within the domain of the woman because all the events relating to that foetus occur within that woman. In that respect alone makes abortion a unique situation. That child owes its entire existence to the ability of the mother’s womb to support that foetus. That surely must make the mothers feelings and wishes the only relevant matter here? The guy who gets shot in the head is an individual part of society, but with the best will in the World, that foetus is not. I cannot think of a single other case where individual choice on morality in life or death situations has a unique impact on a single person. I doubt even euthanasia comes into that category, but that is for another time and another thread.

We do not register every pregnancy as an individual person. We never refer to a ‘woman and her foetus’, we say a ‘pregnant woman’, that is not just semantics, our language has evolved to express our cultural leanings. Those leanings point to ‘life’ having started at ‘birth’. So we are not starting with a blank canvas in the ‘shooting in the head’ trope would have us believe. This is self evidently a false analogy for reason we both understand and you have conceded.

The point is that this is the trope that the anti abortionists keep going back to because, when you look at it any other way, they have nothing else. They have to keep up the conceit because the whole philosophical argument loses any grounding it has without it.

119. Chaise Guevara

@ 118 Jim

With respect (and I mean that, because most people can’t debate abortion for days and not end up being an arsehole about it), you’re not getting what I’m saying about abortion and murder. I am not conflating them, I am not saying they are equivalent; they are two completely different things. It’s simply an analogy, a way of applying the logic used in one argument to another argument.

This is probably my fault for picking murder as the anology in the first place. Like I say, replace murder with shoplifting and the argument remains the same. All I’m saying (although I think it’s very important) is that claiming pro-lifers are trying to impose their will on a single individual is unfair.

There are people who try to impose their will on others for no good reason. People who want to outlaw homosexuality, for example, or people who support narcotics being illegal. These people are authoritarians who think the rest of the world should conform to their idea of perfection, and as a rule I dislike them. Pro-lifers don’t belong in this camp. By their own lights, they are trying to protect a person from abuse by another person. In principle, that’s the same as trying to protect adults from being murdered by other adults, or to pick a less dramatic metaphor, it’s the same as trying to protect people from being robbed by other people. This has NOTHING to do with whether or not abortion is murder, that’s simply another topic.

120. Chaise Guevara

* Jim

Meant to finish with this: I’m aware you said this was your final statement on the subject, and that’s cool. The thread’s gone off the radar, so I won’t hold it against you if you don’t respond.

121. Chaise Guevara

..And I’ve just realised that my post could be read as saying you’re an arsehole. I meant the opposite of that: you’ve debated abortion for a long while now and NOT turned into an arsehole, and I respect that.

Still heading over the horizon and we’ve now come back to the beginning – define human life.

The anti-abortionists may claim that they’re trying to protect the interests/rights of a life whereas the pro-abortionists claim it’s not a life that has interests/rights to protect.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate? http://bit.ly/jTZODW

  2. New Humanist

    Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate? http://bit.ly/jTZODW

  3. Abortion Rights

    RT @libcon: Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate? http://t.co/zS04BII #prochoice

  4. The F-Word

    RT @libcon: Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate? http://bit.ly/jTZODW

  5. Georgie

    "Science is a tool, and it is not apolitical." On the place of science in the abortion debate: http://t.co/4RLjBE5

  6. Amelia L

    "Science is a tool, and it is not apolitical." On the place of science in the abortion debate: http://t.co/4RLjBE5

  7. Humanist Post

    “@libcon: Should science be central or a side-show in the abortion debate? http://t.co/BeEZ32G” definate tweet of the day.What do you think?

  8. Ministry of Truth » Blog Archive » Why pro-choice must mean pro-science

    [...] first fruits of those labours have now been published at both the F-word and Liberal Conspiracy and, a little worryingly from my perspective,  they suggest that at least some  on the feminist [...]





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