Bodily Rights and a Better Idea

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A positive review of “Bodily Rights and a Better Idea” has appeared in Life Matters Journal Volume 5 Issue 1 — April 2016, written by LMJ Deputy Editor C.J. Williams.

 

For a reasonable number of readers, I can provide a Word version of the essay. The Word version contains bookmarks and hyperlinks to make cross-referencing different parts of the essay easy. Email me using the address on my About page.

 

George McFall clearly needed some of David Shimp’s bone marrow more than Shimp needed it. When Shimp – McFall’s first cousin – refused to give it, McFall took him to court.

The judge’s gavel came down. He wasn’t enthralled with Shimp as a person, but every speck of the bone marrow in Shimp’s body was, in the eyes of society, private property – Shimp’s private property. McFall’s eyes closed on the world, for the last time, before his 25th birthday.

A caring society views both such persons as equally valuable. Such a society has an interest in seeing both thrive and not come to harm. It would seem completely logical for society to have instructed Shimp to hand over some bone marrow, and if he did not do so peacefully, to have taken it forcibly. Why doesn’t society do that? Is society wrong not to do that?

Society sometimes grants to its citizens surprisingly strong body-related rights – body-related rights that are out of proportion to what a rational fairness would seem to demand. I don’t think that that is necessarily wrong. People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. And due to empathy with that sense, or due to a social contract, society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights such as those of Shimp that we have just seen.

I basically support such rights, at least in this part of this century. Perhaps Shimp should have been sentenced to a lot of community service for refusing to help McFall. But I say that I basically support such rights because I do not think he should have been tied down and his bone marrow removed forcibly.

It is important that the laws and conventions of society should give that psychological sense of ownership its due. But is the current concept of bodily rights the most logical and coherent way to accomplish that?

The bodily-rights argument for legal abortion is usually advanced through thought experiments that create analogies with pregnancy – analogies in which our sympathies will be on the side of a right to refuse to let one’s body be used. And those arguments are usually contested by showing the disanalogies between the situations of the thought experiments, and the situation of actual pregnancy. In this essay, however, the approach will be to analyze the concept of bodily rights, rather than to deal with thought experiments that elicit our intuitions about bodily rights.

SYNOPSIS

I wrote, “People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. And due to empathy with that sense, or due to a social contract, society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights . . .” I will first try to show that the current concept of bodily rights reflects some awareness of that psychological reality, but (among other problems with the concept) the awareness it reflects is an unclear one that tries too hard to relate the psychological reality to bodily boundaries (the term “bodily rights” itself invites confusion, when it is a psychological reality that we are really addressing). The concept misleadingly suggests that some defined degree of trespass of bodily boundaries will always do a defined degree of harm; that is, that any trespass of bodily boundaries will harm and that deeper trespass will harm more. This off-target concept of bodily rights in turn easily lends itself to a kind of absolutism about infringements on bodily boundaries, which is then used particularly by advocates of abortion rights to argue for their cause.

Bodily-rights arguments against abortion restrictions show us that denial of abortion is a degree of trespass on one’s bodily boundaries similar to the degree of trespass involved in other situations (such as the forcible appropriation of a body part) which nearly everyone’s moral intuitions agree are wrong. The arguments thus tend to persuade us that denial of abortion is also wrong. But as I will show, it is only the offense to one’s sense of body ownership that is a real harm (a mental harm) caused by trespass per se, and the degree of that offense is only partially and unpredictably related to the degree of trespass. Real mental harm is somewhat independent of the degree of trespass. Therefore the degree of that real harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific situation, not by possible biological similarities with other situations. In the present undeveloped state of psychology and neuroscience, we have to rely on our empathy and intuition about the degree of that harm, and then rely on our moral intuitions, to decide whether the degree of that harm for a pregnant woman, as we estimate it to be (taken together with all the other physical and mental harms of the denial of a particular abortion), is so great as to outweigh the harm of death for the child, with the consequence that we would feel it right to let that child die rather than to so greatly offend the sense of body ownership of the woman. To understand it in this way is to liberate our minds from the misleading features of various analogies, as we seek our most correct moral intuitions about abortion. The moral intuitions of nearly everyone agree that the harm of offending Shimp’s sense of body ownership by forcibly taking his bone marrow (when added on to the modicum of physical harm to him) would have been greater than the harm of death for McFall, but as mentioned, what counts is “the psychological phenomenon of harm in [a] specific situation,” not “biological similarities with other situations.” And the moral intuitions of many, many people (though I won’t say of everyone or nearly everyone) do NOT agree that in the specific situation of a typical proposed abortion, the harm of offending the pregnant woman’s sense of body ownership (taken together with all the other physical and mental harms of the denial of a particular abortion), is so great as to outweigh the harm of death for the child.

In this essay I will not prove that abortion should be illegal, but I think I will at least show that if the virtues and defects of the bodily-rights concept are correctly understood, there is no strong bodily-rights argument against making many abortions illegal.

(The entire argument of my essay can be outlined in eleven points – see below. The foregoing three paragraphs can be broken down into points 1-9 of the outline.)

Moreover, if society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,” and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes, and society can dispense with the off-target and therefore sometimes misleading idea of bodily rights. (This sentence can be broken down into points 10 and 11, i.e., the last points, of my outline.)

I would like to proceed now according to the following outline:

1. Rights are only meaningful and useful in terms of protection against wrongs, that is, against unjust harm, so the concept of bodily rights can be meaningful and useful only if and as there is a potential for unjust harm to be done that is defined solely by trespass of one’s bodily boundaries.

2. Harm can be only harm to the body or harm to the mind.

3. In terms of a right to freedom from bodily harm, the concept of bodily rights doesn’t add anything to more obvious ethical notions. So though the current concept of bodily rights aims to protect against both physical and mental harm caused by trespass of bodily boundaries, in relation to bodily harm, the concept is not particularly useful.

4. In terms of a right to freedom from mental harm, the concept of bodily rights could be meaningful as one possible way of framing that right. (Even if it is not the best way.) People have a sense of ownership of their bodies, such that trespass on their bodily boundaries can be a source of mental harm, and “bodily rights” would be one way to protect from that mental harm. But it is the degree of that harm, taken together with the degree of more obvious harms, that become the real yardstick of a right to refuse the use of one’s body.

5. Because of the sense of body ownership, in a situation of opposing interests between two innocent people that involves one person needing to use the body of the other, society does not make a simple decision in favor of the person who is likely to suffer the greater harm of obvious kinds — that is, of kinds other than offense to the sense of ownership. It counts that kind of mental harm as harm, which weights its decision in the direction of the person whose body stands to be used by the other.

6. Society weights its decision in this way so strongly, that in many cases it decrees that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die.

7. But the concept of bodily rights remains vague and confusing. This is in part because the degree of harm (that is, the degree of mental harm caused by offense to one’s sense of ownership), which is morally meaningful, is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass on the body – which is morally meaningless apart from harm. Since it is inconsistently related to the degree of trespass, the degree of that harm when abortion is denied could be approximately determined only by psychological study focusing on the psychological phenomenon of harm in that specific situation – not simply by knowing the degree of trespass.

8. Proponents of the bodily-rights argument for abortion rights claim that because society decrees in many cases that a particular offense against one person’s sense of body ownership is not justified even if the other person will die, there must therefore be a universal principle to that effect, i.e., society must so decree in all such cases – or claim at least that the situation of unwanted pregnancy should not be an exception. This claim does not hold up.

9. Some actions that trespass a person’s bodily boundaries without the person’s consent are countenanced or supported by society in general (meaning that society in general does not take very seriously any offense to the sense of ownership in such cases). In my personal view, still more such actions should be countenanced or supported.

10. What matters, in terms of the rights that society should choose to sustain in this area of law and ethics, is that those rights should reflect a recognition of the sense of body ownership and its nuances – and of the possibilities of mental harm based on that sense of ownership and its nuances.

11. If society holds and sustains a “right not to be unjustly harmed physically or mentally,”
and the idea of “harm” incorporates an understanding of the psychology of ownership, including body ownership, that will serve all purposes, and society can dispense with the idea of bodily rights.

Continue reading

Next Steps for the Pro-Life Feminist Movement

Secular Pro-Life has published an article co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of SPL, and me.

 

Some further thoughts on the ideas of the article (these thoughts are mine and may or may not be thoughts of the co-author):

1.

We wrote: those who are not pregnant . . . will have to give up time, energy, and money to share the load of children . . .

What would be the economic mechanisms to ensure that sharing? The following is a comment I once posted under Sean Cahill’s “I am equal, not the same”:

 

Thanks, Sean Cahill, for providing a lot of clarity for me. I think some questions still remain, however:

“We are not liberated until both sexes are fully accepted as they are.”

As vehicles for the full acceptance of women as they are, in another guest post you listed the following things that Roe did NOT provide:

1. children born outside of marriage and their mothers are de-stigmatized

2. ensure women are able to earn a living wage

3. ensure proper maternity benefits

4. demand accommodations for parenting students and employees at colleges and workplaces

5. demand men act responsibly.

Can women as they are (i.e., without abortion) attain equality through these vehicles? The problem I see is this: Under capitalism as we know it, people win economic independence for themselves only when they get compensated for producing marketable goods or services. Child-carrying and child-rearing are not presently marketable goods or services, so if some of a woman’s time and energy goes into child-carrying and child-rearing, she will be hindered in winning economic independence unless child-carrying and child-rearing become marketable services. Handouts from those who ARE getting compensated for producing marketable goods or services do not have as much potential to add up to real money as do the direct compensations that go to the real (real in capitalistic terms) producers. And your points 2-4 above are, in a capitalistic framework, handouts.

So why not begin to treat child-carrying and child-rearing as marketable services? The answer revolves around demand. Under some neo-capitalistic system, they could indeed be marketable services, and under a socialistic system also, they could be services deserving of compensation. The level of the fee or the compensation would depend on the level of a given society’s demand for population, but in every society there is always a demand for at least some level of replacement of population. So your points 2-4 above would be upgraded from handouts to earned compensation.

Even if child-carrying and child-rearing were treated in this way, however, there would not be full equality of opportunity if these activities were to continue to be seen, as at present, as relatively menial occupations. The quip about “brood-mares of the state” would be quite appropriate. Considering the importance of upbringing in relation to whether a child grows up to be an asset to society or a liability, good child-rearing should rather be seen as a prized and highly-compensated set of skills (the most important skill being a hard one to learn — true motherly love).

But even with that “fix” in our framework, skilled mothers might not be as highly valued as top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. And still more importantly, pregnant women and mothers would not be equal in a society — either a capitalistic society or a socialistic society — where the demand for population was low.

All the above was probably clarified a long time ago by some feminist writer or other. Where I would differ from pro-choice feminists might be this: I don’t see any of these problems as quite adding up to justification for killing babies.

Both capitalism and socialism are materialistic. I think that pregnant women and mothers will win equality only when their contribution is recognized in a sense that is not materialistic, and when they are compensated, if not by economic independence and opportunity, then by some kind of clout in society that is as good or better. In order for this to happen, society has to recognize that the contribution made by pregnant women and mothers is at least as valuable as the contribution of top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. Pregnant women and mothers contribute even if their children are not needed by society in a utilitarian way. Yet their contribution will not always be recognized as long as the calculus is a materialistic one. Their contribution is to give life.

 

2.

We wrote:The full value of this uniquely female contribution cannot be understood as long as the calculus is a purely materialistic one. . . . Thus women’s true equality, including the equality of women with unplanned pregnancies, requires a deep sensitivity to the value of life and the damage done to us all when already-existing life is devalued . . .

Will this day ever come? Please see “What’s in It for the Born?”

Further thoughts” to be continued in a day or two.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

The Psychological Morass of the Abortion Issue

 

This essay was first published, with illustrations, in Life Matters Journal Volume 4 Issue 3 — February 2016.

 

morass: 2. a complicated or confused situation

 

Think of all the array of views related to abortion that you have ever encountered. It’s a lot, isn’t it? And now let’s try to imagine all the array of contradictory views related to abortion as they have inhabited all the minds of all people through all of history. That array must be staggering. How could such a plethora of mutually exclusive ideas have originated? I think it is largely explained by the psychological morass on moral issues in general, and this issue in particular, that the human race somehow goes on living with. Recognizing and trying to escape this psychological morass can allow us to find the truth about the morality of abortion.

 

 

In making this assertion, I am assuming that there are indeed moral truths to be found about abortion and other moral questions. Certain answers to the question of whether abortion is right or wrong, just or unjust, can be identified as truer or better than others. Further, I would argue that the answers to moral questions—the moral truths—must ultimately be found through our intuition rather than through intricate arguments or philosophies (although these are certainly a useful part of the process).

 

 

Psychology professor Paul Bloom, author of the recent Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, has offered some justification for an intuitive basis of morality.  In an interview, he commented that while some moral values “are the product of culture and society” and “not in the genes,” “there also exist hardwired moral universals – moral principles that we all possess. And even those aspects of morality . . . that vary across cultures are ultimately grounded in these moral foundations.”[i] With this kind of psychological understanding as a basis, I will make one further assumption to start with: that not only are there indeed moral truths to be found, but that identical truths are to be found deep within all of us. (I discussed this in “Moral Intuition, Logic, and the Abortion Debate.”[ii]) In a similar vein, the journalist Christopher Hitchens described his understanding of human moral intuition in his work God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:

 

Like murder and theft, this [incest] is usually found to be abhorrent to humans without any further explanation. . . . [the Golden Rule is] a sober and rational precept, which one can teach to any child with its innate sense of fairness . . . . [The Rule] is gradually learned, as part of the painfully slow evolution of the species, and once grasped is never forgotten. Ordinary conscience will do, without any heavenly wrath behind it. . . . [C]onscience is innate. . . . Everybody but the psychopath has this feeling to a greater or lesser extent. . . .[iii]

 

 

Despite this conscience, or intuitive moral sense, that humans possess, an array of psychological factors obstruct our intuitive grasp of moral truths. This is a vast topic, but in this article I have selected twelve psychological factors that might work against our finding moral truth on any issue, as well as three factors that are specific to the abortion issue. I think of this article as sketching the broad outlines of how psychological factors interfere with moral intuition. My aim is to provide a basic framework to be filled out by further research. 

 

 

The psychological factors are as follows:

 

 

1. The mental longing for simplicity. No elaboration is needed here. (I can keep it simple!)

 

2. Upbringing. In the long-standing nature-nurture debate, I would take the following position: we are born with intuitions of certain moral truths already within us in latent form, but various actions or inactions by parents and teachers can undermine the development of those moral intuitions, or create an overlay of false values, or both. Even a casual look is enough to show us the importance, in the development of our attitudes, of background and upbringing.

 

3. Tribalism.Even someone who switches, for example, from pro-choice to pro-life or vice-versa may immediately start demonizing the side they had just been on.

 

4. Projection.We expect others to view some things and value some things just as we do.

 

5.  Neurotic emotional needs. Such needs can affect one’s moral and political views in a number of ways. One way – certainly not the only way – is when the needs result in commitments, sometimes fanatic commitments, to groups or ideologies.

 

6. Denial. We see only what we want to see. Or sometimes we see something, but compartmentalize it away from the part of our mind that would reject it.

 

7. Lack of introspection.If it is true that intuitions of moral truths exist within us and that they began to form in us before we were capable of rational analysis, then it should be clear that to find them we must look within and that this search within will not be a process of thinking up new ideas, but of rummaging through what is already there. We may need to make such efforts frequently, and with patience, over a period of time.

 

8. An excessive faith in the efficacy of logical argumentation to resolve moral issues. This faith seems to be borne out of a psychological need for an orderly understanding of our environment, perhaps borne in turn out of an illusion that such conceptual order gives us some kind of control over our environment.

 

(This is certainly not to say that there is no place in moral investigations for logic. I think that all the thought experiments and probing for inconsistency and arguments that go on are indispensable, but they are indispensable because they nudge us toward more accurate moral intuitions, which are not essentially based on logic.[iv])

 

9. The manufacture of perceptions.  As just one example, if you hear “My body, my choice” enough times, and are not presented with alternative views, after a while you will come to really believe that there is only one body involved in an abortion.

 

10. Doctrinal baggage that comes along with the valuable elements of a religion.  Atheism advocate Sam Harris has described a transcendent experience that he once underwent sitting by the Sea of Galilee. He writes:

 

If I were a Christian, I would undoubtedly have interpreted this experience in Christian terms. . . .  If I were a Hindu, I might think in terms of Brahman. . . . If I were a Buddhist, I might talk about the “dharmakaya of emptiness.” [v]

 

The meditative and devotional techniques of various religions can bring about in us these transcendent states, arguably the most wonderful states we have ever experienced. Although Harris and others strive for totally non-religious forms of meditation, it must be admitted that religions are, today, still ahead of conventional science in the knowledge of such techniques. As a result, when someone experiments with such “religious” practices and discovers that they constitute a certain specialized wisdom that science seems to be lacking and that most directly leads to happiness, they are likely not only to adopt that valuable meditative practice, but also to buy the whole religious package, including whatever that religion teaches about astronomy and evolutionand the ensoulment of a newly-conceived baby. If the religion teaches that ensoulment does not take place for the first three months, for example, and that abortion before that point is permissible, then even if that teaching happens not to be correct, they will believe it.

 

This psychological factor is different from factor 5 above, in that I think it can occur even in a psychologically very healthy person.

 

11. Limited human intelligence.

 

12. Unlimited human ego. A big percentage of discussions about moral issues comes down to a garden-variety contest of egos. Discussions become more about winning, belittling, and mocking than about trying to understand clearly. People write on any topic partly because they want attention. It has been said, “More people write poetry than read it.” Similarly, it may be that more people talk than listen.

 

Most of the 12 factors listed above can contribute to different forms of cognitive dissonance: we sense a contradiction or incompatibility between the beliefs psychological factors move us toward and the beliefs our moral intuitions move us toward. We cope with cognitive dissonance by adopting ideas that violate our natural intuitions, and then shoring those ideas up with techniques such as confirmation bias.

 

Among the psychological factors that work against intuitively finding the moral truths within, there are also some differences of perception that do not come into play in relation to most moral issues, but do come into play in relation to the abortion issue:

 

13. Incorrect intuitions about the unborn.Some people see the unborn, especially the early unborn, as a snapshot, and some see it as part of a process. If a small embryo were to remain just as it is, frozen in time (a snapshot) we would have to say quite fairly that its life would not have much value.

 

Both ways of looking at the unborn are scientifically useful for different purposes. It is not science, but only pre-logical intuition, that identifies the unborn as an organism with little moral value or an organism with great moral value. If there are indeed moral truths to be found, however, one of these two intuitions must be less correct than the other.

 

14. Incorrect intuitions about the importance of bodily rights. One important source of variations in intuitions about the importance of bodily rights is different cultural senses of the relative weights to be given to the individual and to the collective. Almost the greatest relinquishing of bodily right imaginable is when a person submits to being conscripted into an army, where he or she will risk all his body organs being blown to bits. Different cultures vary greatly in their acceptance of military conscription. Yet if there are indeed moral truths to be found, one particular moral truth about bodily rights must be correctnot all of the diverse intuitions about bodily rights can reflect that truth. (I have written elsewhere about bodily rights.[vi])

 

15. Incorrect intuitions about what’s wrong with killing.Among all who get involved in discussions about moral issues, killing and violence seem to have, in general, a bad name. One would think that that would give us some common ground. But it turns out that although killing is universally disreputable, it’s disreputable in a nebulous way. We disagree on exactly what is wrong with killing.

 

My moral intuition is that what is most wrong with killing is that it deprives an organism of its future life. But in discussions about abortion, I have often encountered expressions such as this one: “I can’t imagine caring one way or the other being aborted if I didn’t possess a fully functional nervous system.” Here any harm to be done by killing seems to depend on the organism’s caring, at the time of the killing, about its future life (this view does not, after all, contest the fact that a currently unconscious embryo will have a fully functional nervous system soon and will eventually care about its future life). This view seems to exclude the possibility that any harm can be caused by depriving an organism of its future life, whether the organism deprived of life cares about it at this moment or not. Thus the only real harm that this view is willing to consider is the harm of frustrating a desire, on the part of the organism, to live.[vii]

 

This is one example of how there are different intuitions about what is wrong with killing. Yet if there are real moral truths to be found, then not all the intuitions can be correct.

 

By identifying 15 different psychological factors that interfere with moral intuition, I have tried to develop a kind of checklist. I think that if anyone can go through the checklist and neutralize in themselves each of the above-mentioned psychological factors, their thinking will become clear. Their minds will become cleared of endless clutter. And when other people encounter a clear mind like that, they in turn become forced to clear their own minds.

 

This clarification process (along with scientific progress) will decide the abortion issue. The grip of all the psychological factors enumerated above will be loosened. Arguments, thought experiments, and other philosophical approaches will play a part in breaking their grip; I think that the part that they will play will be a significant one, but not, alone, a decisive one.

 

Personally I expect that the truth that we will find through moral intuition will be mostly a pro-life truth. I expect that the issue will be decided to an important extent by the fuller recognition of the humanity of a previously dehumanized group. (The importance of psychological factor 13 above cannot be overestimated.) Do I expect all this due to some psychological blinders of my own? Time will tell.



[i] Sam Harris, “The Roots of Good and Evil: An Interview with Paul Bloom,” Sam Harris (blog), November 12, 2013, http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-roots-of-good-and-evil

[ii] Life Matters Journal 4 Issue 1 (June 2015): 24-29, also available at http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/moral-intuition-logic-and-the-abortion-debate/

[iii] Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2008), 53, 213-214, 256.

[iv] “Moral Intuition, Logic, and the Abortion Debate” in Life Matters Journal, Volume 4 Issue 1 (June 2015): 24-29, and http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/moral-intuition-logic-and-the-abortion-debate/

[v] Sam Harris, Waking Up (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 81-82.

[vi] “Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument,” July 8, 2014, http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/dismantling-the-bodily-rights-argument-without-using-the-responsibility-argument/

[vii] For a discussion of this issue, see Kelsey Hazzard and Acyutananda, “What Babies Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Them, Right?,” Secular ProLife (blog), January 4, 2016, http://blog.secularprolife.org/2016/01/what-babies-dont-know-cant-hurt-them.html.

 

Further thoughts on the above LMJ essay:

1. Psychological factor 4 above is “Neurotic emotional needs. Such needs can affect one’s felt or at least expressed moral and political views in a number of ways. One way – certainly not the only way – is when the needs result in commitments, sometimes fanatic commitments, to groups or ideologies.”

I think it would be safe to say that in the context of the abortion issue, the groups or ideologies most concerned in this way are the Catholic Church and evangelical churches on the pro-life side, and the pro-choice feminist movement on the pro-choice side. My point here is not to take issue with any Christian teachings as such, or with pro-choice feminism as such; and certainly not to say that commitment to either can stem only from neurosis. My point concerns unquestioning belief. I think that it is human nature always to question, but that those Christians who happen to be fanatic about their religion due to some psychological need, will be prone to believe that abortion is wrong without further examination, just because their religion says that that is God’s command. And I think that those pro-choice feminists who happen to be fanatic about their ideology due to some psychological need, will be prone to believe that protection of the unborn is wrong without further examination, just because their ideology teaches that it is somehow part of a system of oppression of women. (By the way, pro-life feminists have offered at least some clues as to how that belief became the majority belief within the feminist movement, which, apart from the embrace of abortion rights by its majority, must be the most inspiring revolutionary movement the world has ever seen. See Serrin Foster’s speech “The Feminist Case against Abortion.”

Again, to say that people who have neurotic emotional needs (more so than the fairly neurotic average in society) – angry people for instance – gravitate toward a particular movement does not necessarily reflect at all on the movement itself. Many of the most psychologically healthy, or even radiantly healthy, people I have met are to be found among the ranks of Catholics and evangelicals; and it’s likely that some of the finest people may be found in the ranks of pro-choice feminists also. The position of the latter on abortion rights may be based not on moral blindness, but simply on blindness about the reality of the unborn. And regarding Catholics and evangelicals, I am awed by what they have done in holding the line against abortion, as much as it could be held, for all these years.

2. Above I said, “I will make one further assumption to start with: that not only are there indeed moral truths to be found, but that identical truths are to be found deep within all of us.”

Slavery in the US was never proved to be morally wrong. If after all the years of harsh exploitation of the slaves and bitter strife among the whites, a formal paper in some philosophy journal had finally convinced everybody that slavery was wrong, that document and its philosophical proof would now be more famous than the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, or the Thirteenth Amendment. But there was no such paper; rather, undoubtedly there was a multiplicity of contradictory papers, all of which together played only a modest role in the process. The collective moral sense simply evolved. Uncle Tom’s Cabin probably played a bigger role than any formal proof.

The politics – not least war, that “continuation of politics by other means” – and economics involved in the end of slavery were very complex. But moral evolution must have played its part. The chains of people’s psychological complexes faded over time so that the chains of slavery could more readily be broken. People who were incorrigible vessels of outmoded thinking died off.

And I said above:

“A similar process (along with scientific progress) will decide the abortion issue. The grip of all the psychological foibles enumerated above will be loosened. Logical syllogisms, thought experiments, and other philosophical approaches, within or without formal papers, will play a part in breaking their grip; I think that the part that they will play will be a significant one, but not, alone, a decisive one.

“Personally I expect that the truth that we will find will be mostly a pro-life truth. I expect that, as in the case of slavery, the issue will be decided to an important extent by the fuller recognition of the humanity of a previously-dehumanized group. (The importance of 13 above cannot be overestimated.) . . .”

What’s Wrong with Killing?

Among all who get involved in discussions about moral issues, killing and violence seem to have, in general, a bad name. How many times have you heard the remark, in refutation of some view, “By that logic, it would be okay to kill someone” – ? Killing is the default that we turn to when we need some example of doing wrong.

One would think that in the abortion debate, agreement on the wrong of killing would give us some common ground. But it turns out that although killing is universally disreputable, it’s disreputable in a nebulous way. When we say “Killing is wrong,” we don’t all mean the same thing. We disagree on exactly what is wrong with it.

1. To my moral intuitions, it is clear that what is most wrong with killing is that it deprives an organism of its future conscious life. If I don’t deem it to have much of a future life or don’t deem that its future life will be very conscious, as I don’t in the case of a mosquito, then killing it is less wrong. I think it’s permissible to kill a mosquito for a provocation or even a threat that would not justify my killing a human being.

2. But many people think that what is most wrong about killing relates to the species of the victim without regard to its future conscious life. They say that the lives of all human beings are exactly equal in value and that human lives are special. Thus the worst wrong is to kill any innocent human being. (Well, there are some who say only, “The lives of all born human beings are exactly equal in value;” but the fundamental assumption is the same – those who say that simply don’t apply the assumption to the unborn.) Thus the life of a person in an irreversible coma (even granting the assumption that we really know beyond doubt that the coma is complete and irreversible) is as valuable as your life or mine.

Many Christians think in this way because of a belief that any human being, yet only a human being, is an imago dei.

I disagree with vesting all belief in what is wrong with killing in the simple humanity of the victim, because my moral intuitions tell me that in a triage situation – for instance if that person in a coma were in a hospital where there was not sufficient life-support equipment for two patients, and there was another patient in need of the equipment who was conscious or expected to regain consciousness – I would clearly prioritize the second person, though that person is not more human.

I think I would even preserve the life of a dog who could expect to have years of conscious life ahead of it (I believe dogs to be among the animals with highest consciousness), rather than that of a human who was sure never to come out of a coma.

The life of any human being is very important to me. We should not take anyone off life support if we can help it (unless they wrote an advance directive). But I wonder if some of my concern for even a human being in an irreversible coma, stems from my knowledge that humans in general are highly conscious.

3. Some think that what’s wrong with killing is that it frustrates a desire, on the part of the organism, to live.

I was lucky enough not to have to try to analyze this particular view on my own. An analysis of it co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life, and me, appears as a post on the SPL blog. Here I will just add a couple of further comments:

In the blog post, we remarked about that view, What is being said here is that an organism’s caring about its future life is important, but the future life itself that the organism cares about is not important. One more way to put “what is being said” would be: “Beings’ future lives don’t matter, but if they cherish a desire to live based on the illusion that their lives really do matter, then that foolish desire matters.”

We have implied in the post that an equation between caring about living (wanting to live) and caring about one’s future life; but can there really be much debate about that equation? For myself, I think that people who don’t want to live are invariably people who don’t want to go through the future life that they expect; and people who do want to live have at least a little hope for a little future happiness.

Also, in using expressions such as “the only harm that we can see in the frustration of a desire for one’s future life” in relation to the topic of the wrong of the killing, we have suggested that wrong involves harm. If there is any moral wrong unrelated to harming somebody, it seems to me that it would be a very abstract wrong compared to the wrong of harm.

And, it might be worth identifying a possible difference between the frustrates-a-desire-to-live view that we mainly discuss, and Peter Singer’s view, which we also mention. Singer focuses on the importance of a capacity to care (to hold preferences, as he puts it), but I’m not sure whether he ever singles out the importance of caring about life. Thus his thesis may not undermine itself as much as does the other, which inadvertently implies the importance of future life. Yet he equally ignores the relevance of future life when we consider killing someone.

(And lastly, in that article we said, “. . . okay, it’s true, embryos haven’t yet started to care about their future, and probably won’t for some years.” But were we 100% correct in saying that? The fact that they are biologically programmed to do everything possible to live, and that that biological longing is designed to ensure that the later conscious longing will have its day, means something to my personal moral intuitions. But let’s leave that aside for now.)

I think of the above as the three main competing views as to what is wrong with killing. In addition, there are some views as to what may at least add to the wrong of killing:

4. Killing may involve inflicting pain. On the wrong of inflicting avoidable pain, there is almost complete common ground in society. Even hunters who kill for fun do not find as much fun in it if they inflict significantly more pain than usual. Even pro-choicers who do not see anything wrong with killing the unborn in itself would like it to be done as painlessly as possible. Even if there really exist proponents of the “sovereign zone” bodily-rights argument who say that a pregnant woman should have a legal right to torture her unborn (because she is doing what she wants with her body and its contents), they would probably say that it would be morally wrong for her to do so.

5. Killing will often involve emotional distress for people other than the victim. It will particularly cause distress if the victim had in their life developed positive relationships. This has some small relevance in the abortion debate, because a born person, unlike an unborn, may have developed such relationships. Killing the unborn may be less wrong in that particular way.

6. Killing will often involve a loss of a utilitarian kind. And again, it is only born people who may be confirmed to be making a positive utilitarian contribution to society.

If we are to consider people’s utilitarian value in assessing their worthiness to live, we have to note that the utilitarian value of some born people will be greater than that of others, and that the contributions of certain born persons have been confirmed to be negative. Still, if carrying a pregnancy to term might negatively impact a woman’s ability to take care of her born children, that would assign a certain negative utilitarian value to her unborn child, and if there is no one who can help with the born children, that would be a factor to some degree, for the permissibility of abortion in that particular case.

 

In relation to the “frustrating a desire” belief about the wrong of killing, I wrote, “Ultimately we can’t argue logically with moral intuitions.” Logical arguments can be very important in helping people find better intuitions in themselves, but ultimately we can’t reject, on logical grounds, any of the above intuitions about the wrong of killing. I have written elsewhere regarding how I think differences in moral intuition ultimately resolve.

And I have said a number of things here indicating that I don’t give equal value to all human lives. Philosophically I don’t and probably many people don’t, but it would not be wise for society to try to implement, in practice, some objective calculation of value. Because if it were known that everybody was being rated in terms of their expendability, that would cause tremendous tension in society. We have to maintain the existing social convention “everyone’s life is of equal value,” and continue to codify that convention in terms of equal legal rights. (Except in a triage situation where the rubber meets the road and we have to make some differentiations.) I also think that the existing social convention should be upgraded so that “everyone” includes the unborn. I think that mainly because the unborn, also, have a future conscious life.

© 2015

What Babies Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Them, Right?

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of SPL, and me.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

What’s in It for the Born?

 

This essay was first published, with illustrations, in Life Matters Journal Volume 4 Issue 2 — October 2015.

 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “humanize” as 1) “to make more humane” and 2) “to give a human character to.” When we say, “Abortion-rights advocates often dehumanize the unborn,” we use a negative form of sense 2 to mean that they take human character away from the unborn. In this essay I will use “humanize” in both senses, but mainly in sense 1, “make more humane.”

My generation of Americans can be credited with having made itself into something more humane and more human — with having undergone, in a relatively short time, a moral and empathetic change. In the 1960s, it humanized us (those of us who were white) to come to see other races as fully human; it humanized us (those of us who were men) to come to see women as fully human; and it humanized some of us Americans to come to see the Vietnamese as fully human.

A decade later, it humanized us (those of us who were heterosexual) to come to see homosexuals as fully human.

And around the same time, it humanized those of us who were able-bodied to come to see the differently abled as fully human.

For succeeding generations, such inclusive attitudes came more easily, since much of such attitudes was inherited from the opening up that had already occurred. Empathy even became mandatory, and the term “politically correct” came into existence.

Nothing could be more obvious than that humanity has consistently evolved in the direction of increasing inclusiveness. And it is obvious to me, from my own experience and from what I have seen take place in the people around me, that the benefits of this inclusiveness have not been a one-way street.

One need not believe in God to appreciate the psychological wisdom of the Golden Rule in Christianity and of teachings of altruism and service-mindedness in other religions and philosophies. Some of our species have long understood the futility of seeking happiness in objects and in tangible rewards, even the most tangible mental rewards such as the admiration of others. As a species, we have gradually been learning that happiness for an individual involves identification with something greater than oneself.

Science may now have caught up with traditional wisdom in this area and may begin to take the lead. As the abstract of a 2008 psychology study said,

. . . we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves. 1

These findings recommend just the opposite of the “corrosive . . . social atomism” Tanner Matthews identified, in the January 2015 issue of Life Matters Journal, in one noted abortion apologist. 2

The above are just some hints that I feel help to explain my own empirical observations: the more of the human race that I, and people known to me, have included in our mental family, the happier we ourselves have become as a result.

Obviously we as Americans, not to mention we as a global society, still have a long way to go in terms of real inclusiveness of all the groups I have mentioned above. But it is clear to me that we have made progress and that the momentum is in the right direction.

Painfully, however, almost left out in the march of such progress has been one big human population: the unborn. Historically, they seem always to have been second-class citizens, at best. Even many pro-lifers, even today, seem to save most of their outrage at abortion for those of the unborn who are pain-capable or viable. And even whatever progress toward acceptance there has been for the early-term unborn has been met by a fierce reactionary onslaught in some small but perhaps growing pro-choice circles, mainly in the United States.

Human Life as One Seamless Process

I will say something about that reaction, but first I would like to point out that most dismissiveness toward the unborn does not stem from any conspiracy at all. I think it is quite natural. Again I look at myself. I’ve tried to remember — and really can’t remember exactly — how I thought of the unborn when I was young, but I do remember having the idea that there were a lot of kindly doctors around who were quite ready to solve someone’s problem, so therefore abortion must be completely okay (though illegal, at that time). And after I read The Population Bomb, I felt quite urgent about controlling, or better yet, reducing, population, and I’m sure I must have thought of abortion as a very good thing. I’m sure that the unborn seemed insignificant to me. Neither in the 1960s nor maybe even in the 1970s did I begin to think of the unborn any differently than that.

If a small embryo were to remain just as it is, frozen in time, we would have to say quite fairly that its life would not have much value. And it doesn’t really matter exactly when I began to see an embryo as anything other than such a snapshot. But after however many years of thought and meditation, experience, and a smattering of scientific learning, the following idea finally became a reflexive understanding for me, and not just an abstraction: “A human life is one seamless process that has to start somewhere, and how can it be expected that it won’t start small?” I came to see the unborn primarily as a process and only secondarily as a snapshot of a particular moment.

Both ways of looking at the unborn are scientifically useful for different purposes. It is not science, but only pre-logical intuition, that can certify as more morally relevant the perception of the embryo as a continual and relentless process, minute by minute, toward a fullness of human experience whose value no one will contest. This is the perception, in other words, “The child is father to the man” — and thus a person. But it would be a scientific statement (about my own subjective experience) to say that I feel larger myself for having embraced that group along with other human groups.

To quote another proverb here, I think that the single biggest source of the whole avoidable-abortion tragedy that is going on, and therefore also of the whole abortion conflict in society, is summed up by “Out of sight, out of mind.” To care about the unborn, the unborn must first seem real to us, and how can they seem real when our five senses help us so little? It is difficult to know what the first thoughts about and perceptions of the unborn might be on the part of very small children. How they perceive the unborn must depend a lot on the depictions they hear from their parents, which must in turn vary widely. We sometimes hear of things that small children do or say, when their mothers are pregnant, that seem to show a surprising connectedness with the unborn, a connectedness that we could even interpret as being based on identification — the born child having been so recently in the same position as its sibling. But if that connectedness was a reality for me personally when my younger brother was inside my mother (which I don’t remember), I certainly lost it later on. So I’m guessing it’s common either to lack that ability to connect, or to lose it later in childhood. Wordsworth described the fading of a kind of magic as a child grows: “Shades of the prison-house begin to close / Upon the growing Boy.” If, in the absence of a positive vision instilled by the parents, or a special intuition, you just showed a child a life-size model of an embryo a few millimeters long, with a tail, I think the child would not be impressed.

Certainly we do not start out in life with either the scientific knowledge or the cognitive equipment to see the unborn in terms of the information that is in their genes and the process of change that that information drives. Moreover, I think I was not unique when young in wanting to find some kind of permanence in the world. I have been learning extremely slowly that my body and my friendships and my favorite food products must all change, and still haven’t learned all such lessons yet. So regarding the unborn, I think we must certainly start out with a strong bias toward the snapshot model as at least part of our mental mix. Naturally it might take years to come to “see” a being whom we can’t literally see, as the first requisite step in the process of a human life.

The Wall Street Journal has found that “. . . attitudes about abortion and politics are subject to change with age and experience, and usually in a conservative direction.” 3 (Personally I hope that that is true about abortion but not about all politics.)

Other variables being equal, a pregnant woman must innately have a much better sense than most people of the humanity of what is inside her. Even then, however, I think that that sense can be very limited without further thought, experience, and so on. Many of the post-abortive women whose stories of regret I have seen or heard have said that the unborn seemed inconsequential to them at the time. Later they decided that it had been a person after all.

The Dehumanizing Reaction

All this has just been to make clear the natural difficulties of seeing an early unborn child, in a reflexive and intuitive way, for the human being that our educated intellects actually know it to be. But in addition to those natural difficulties, there has also been the reactionary backlash that I mentioned above. In the cases of all the rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, also, forces of reaction not surprisingly arose to protect certain interests.

Here we have to distinguish between a valid acknowledgment of legitimate interests, and propaganda. There is no denying that the interests of the unborn may come in conflict with the interests of some of the born — particularly, of course, the women who carry them — and no denying that to protect their most vital interests, the born may sometimes have the right to kill the unborn. But even if we are in conflict with some other party, it would not be intellectually honest to allow the conflict to affect our evaluation of the other party’s humanity.

The temptation to do so would be understandable, however. Here let’s reflect that even before Roe v. Wade, it was clear to some that, with the US Supreme Court holding sway, abortion rights would need to hinge on the lack of personhood of the unborn. So any initiative to establish the humanity of the unborn came to be resisted from the beginning through a concerted effort to dehumanize them (using here the negative form of sense 2 of “humanize”). Author and abortion-rights advocate Naomi Wolf admitted this twenty years ago, and went on to try to pinpoint the origins of that reaction:

Because of the implications of a Constitution that defines rights according to the legal idea of “a person,” the abortion debate has tended to focus on the question of “personhood” of the fetus. Many pro-choice advocates developed a language to assert that the fetus isn’t a person, and this, over the years has developed into a lexicon of dehumanization. Laura Kaplan’s The Story of Jane, an important forthcoming account of a pre-Roe underground abortion service, inadvertently sheds light on the origins of some of this rhetoric: service staffers referred to the fetus — well into the fourth month — as “material” (as in “the amount of material that had to be removed…”). . . . In the early 1970s, Second Wave feminism adopted this rhetoric in response to the reigning ideology in which motherhood was invoked as an excuse to deny women legal and social equality. In a climate in which women risked being defined as mere vessels while their fetuses were given “personhood” at their expense, it made sense that women’s advocates would fight back by depersonalizing the fetus. . . . Second Wave feminists reacted to the dehumanization [of] women by dehumanizing the creatures within them. In the death-struggle to wrest what Simone de Beauvoir called transcendence out of biological immanence, some feminists developed a rhetoric that defined the unwanted fetus as at best valueless: at worst an adversary, a “mass of dependent protoplasm.” 4

Unmentioned by Wolf, but perhaps still more effective in dehumanizing or simply erasing the unborn, were cunning bits of socio-linguistic engineering that assured women that only one “body,” theirs, was involved in any abortion.

All that was twenty to fifty years ago; now (Wolf’s plea for honesty having failed to make a dent in most of her colleagues) it is practically the stock-in-trade of the most vocal of the pro-choice side (for instance, those we are likely to meet in online discussions about abortion) to speak of the unborn as “parasites,” “tumors,” “intruders,” or even “rapists.” One would get the impression that the unborn babies of the world were on the march, trying to destroy civilization as we know it. If these abortion-rights advocates do not always paint the unborn as that marauding horde, at least they carry dismissiveness to comical extremes (the comical nature not being entirely deliberate):

Myself, I’d as soon weep over my taken tonsils or my absent appendix as snivel over those [five] abortions. I had a choice, and I chose life — mine. 5

This is why, if my birth control fails, I am totally having an abortion. Given the choice between living my life how I please and having my body within my control and the fate of a lentil-sized, brainless embryo that has half a chance of dying on its own anyway, I choose me. Here’s another uncomfortable fact for anti-choicers: Just because a woman does want children doesn’t mean she wants them now. Maybe she’s still got some fun-having to do. Or maybe she has a couple already and, already well-educated about the smelly neediness of babies, feels done with having them. Either way, what she wants trumps the non-existent desires of a mindless pre-person that is so small it can be removed in about two minutes during an outpatient procedure. Your cavities fight harder to stay in place. 6

Wolf, above, showed how the origins of deliberate dehumanization of the unborn could be traced to the fear of fetal personhood on the part of pro-choicers in the 1960s and 1970s. But the pro-life movement did not cease its efforts after the 1970s. The pro-choice side has continued to get a lot of pushback from the pro-life side–and rightly so; I think that that pushback should only increase. But it was predictable that there would be a process of conflict escalation, and such a process probably explains the level of dehumanizing rhetoric that we are seeing now. I think that the pro-choice side wouldn’t have taken their rhetoric to such extremes if their agenda had not met resistance in the first place. In other words, the pro-choice extremes are to an important extent a by-product of the pro-life pushback. Reasonableness is one of the casualties of war, particularly when one starts to lose.

But whatever the origins of the dehumanization we are witnessing, what will be its effects on its agents? If, as I have argued, the process of including different groups in our human family brings greater happiness for those who include, what will be the psychological effects for those who deliberately exclude and dehumanize? Wolf again:

Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life. . . . With the pro-choice rhetoric we use now, we incur three destructive consequences — two ethical, one strategic: hardness of heart, lying and political failure. . . . when we defend abortion rights by emptying the act of moral gravity, we find ourselves cultivating a hardness of heart.

Feeling that the unborn are fully human does not necessarily mean that it is immoral ever to kill them, and even if it is immoral, that doesn’t show that it should be illegal. Virtually all who call themselves pro-life would agree that a pregnant woman should be allowed to have her child killed if the risk to her own life reaches a certain level. But Wolf may be one of the few people who really embody another principle that many pro-choicers will agree with abstractly — the principle that even if the unborn are fully human, that per se doesn’t disallow a woman from aborting for the sake of her career, or her education, or even simply because she does not want to be pregnant.

Why do I call Wolf “one of the few” who really embody that principle? Certainly there are many who say, “Even if the unborn are fully human, a woman should be allowed to abort for the sake of her career, or her education, or anything at all.” We are all familiar with the bodily-rights argument, which tries to show that even if the unborn is a person, a woman should have an absolute right to refuse to let it use her body.

But I say Wolf is “one of the few” because she really seems to feel that the unborn is a person. Whereas virtually all, I think, of those many who use the bodily-rights argument, concede only for the sake of the argument that the unborn may be a person, but do not really feel it. I have debated many advocates of bodily rights, and I’m convinced that what truly underlies the artfulness of their arguments is not the logical strength of the position, but the fact that they do not think it’s a person. I think that if they really related emotionally to the unborn as their little sisters and brothers, their minds would quickly be flooded with good counter-logic against that argument of theirs. In practice as opposed to principle, the mere humanity of the unborn is convincing enough to lead to rejection of abortion rights.

Elsewhere I have thought as best I could about the bodily-rights argument, and in the end I support unborn child-protection laws. 7 I mention this because the question of my views on law naturally comes up if I mention law at all. But the way I really need to approach law here is in relation to one of my main themes, our perceptions of the unborn.

One might say, even if unborn child-protection laws are justified in spite of bodily rights, and so on, why enact laws that will be messy and difficult to enforce and widely violated and save only an uncertain number of babies?

One answer is that I think that laws protecting the unborn, by their presence or their absence, are very important in relation to our perceptions of the value of the unborn. Rebecca Haschke does pro-life outreach on college campuses. She says:

I’ve talked to students on campus, though, when we talk about abortion — their reasoning for why abortion is okay is because the law says it’s okay. And I ask them, “Should the law be what determines what is right and wrong?,” and they’ll be like “Well, yeah, it does.” And then I cringe and I say, “Well, have we ever had laws that have been unjust?” And then they go, “Yeah, we have.” . . . the law does sometimes make people think . . . it influences people’s thoughts. 8

In 2005 the Los Angeles Times interviewed patients at an abortion clinic. “She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. ‘It’s not like it’s illegal. It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong,’ she says.”

At a pro-life conference in Orange, Calif. in September 2014, the president of the National Right-to-Life Committee remarked, “We often hear, ‘If it hadn’t been legal, I wouldn’t have done it.’”

Above I said, “Feeling that the unborn are fully human does not necessarily mean that . . . it should be illegal.” Again, the legality of abortion does not technically say, “The unborn have little value,” but I think that in practice it does say that. And the illegality of abortion would send the message that the unborn are fully human. Law affects culture, just as culture affects law.

A Giant Leap for Humankind

And if we do feel that the unborn are fully human, what’s in it for us? What will we gain if we can cross that last frontier of civil rights? Here Dr. Jerome Lejeune, “the father of modern genetics,” is quoted as saying: We need to be clear: The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. Can’t it also be said that once we learn respect for our weakest members, we will elevate the quality of our civilization?

And if we do feel that the unborn are fully human, what’s in it for us? What will we gain if we can cross that last frontier of civil rights?

The lucky and privileged of the species never lost anything psychologically by including in their human family groups that they had earlier despised or patronized. They only broadened their horizons and outgrew their pettiness and the anxiety of clinging to their positions. It was win-win.

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
. . .
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. 10

An acceptance of the unborn will involve not only the earlier kind of inclusiveness when any group was accepted but also, this time, a transition from a mechanistic model of reality to a vision of all life as process and interconnectedness. It will be a giant leap for humankind. Coming to see an embryo as we would a little sister or brother, and coming to see all of life as a process of change, will be at once mind-expanding and a clearer realization of a particular scientific fact. For us, not to mention for the unborn, that day cannot come too soon.

1. Science 21 March 2008: Vol. 319 no. 5870 pp. 1687-1688. DOI: 10.1126/science.1150952. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/319/5870/1687

2. Tanner Matthews, “Argument from Bodily Rights” in Life Matters Journal, Vol. 3 Issue 4, January 2015. http://www.lifemattersjournal.org/#!volume-3/c1sdr

3. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122695016603334449

4. “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” The New Republic, October 16, 1995. http://www.priestsforlife.org/prochoice/ourbodiesoursouls.htm

5. Julie Burchill, “Abortion: still a dirty word” in The Guardian, May 25, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2002/may/25/weekend.julieburchill/

6. Amanda Marcotte, “The Real Debate Isn’t about Life But About What We Expect of Women”. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/03/14/the-real-debate-isnt-about-life-but-about-what-we-expect-of-women/

7. “Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument”. http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org/dismantling-the-bodily-rights-argument-without-using-the-responsibility-argument/

8. “Life Report” on YouTube.

9. Stephanie Simon, “Offering Abortion, Rebirth” in Truthout, November 29, 2005. http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/58965:offering-abortion-rebirth

10. Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road.”

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Only a Potential Person?

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article of mine under their paid blogging program.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Planned Parenthood: An Unmentioned Ethical Issue

In the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’s first two sting videos against Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers have focused mostly on the barbarism of crushing and crunching, and on the fact that the very utility of fetal liver, hearts, lungs and heads for medical research proves the humanity of the unborn. Ross Douthat, for example, wrote in the New York Times: It’s a very specific disgust . . . a fetus’s humanity . . .

Though those points are well-taken, it seems that many of the public are inured to barbarism; and regarding the humanity of the unborn, pro-choicers have some answers that, if not quite convincing, are very strong.

However, there’s an ethical issue here in addition to the humanity of the unborn per se:

Even if the killing of a human is sometimes justifiable because of some valid need to get rid of that unborn human, we have now learned that in addition to that “benefit,” someone is getting a further benefit from the killing besides. Someone benefits from the organs of the unborn, whether Planned Parenthood makes a profit or not.

That benefit to someone inevitably becomes an additional incentive to kill, whether that incentive is small or big.

P.S.: To try for a broader perspective, though, perhaps no one said it better than a fooball player, Ben Watson of the New Orleans Saints:

As horrific as it is, the issue isn’t really the sale of human parts. It’s the legal practice that allows this to even be a possibility. Killing children and simply discarding the leftovers is not any more acceptable than profiting off of them.‪

Aug. 13, 2015 update: Now the Center for Medical Progress has released its sixth video, featuring, like an earlier video, Holly O’Donnell, a former employee of Stem Express, one of the middlemen who receive body parts from Planned Parenthood and sell them to researchers. In this video, O’Donnell says that some of PP’s patients at heart do not want to go through with the abortion. O’Donnell says that she would not pressure women to get abortions, and that if they did proceed, she would not pressure them to consent to the use of the child’s body parts if they were reluctant. But she says her Stem Express supervisors were unhappy with her about such lack of drive. She recalls that one time when she let a woman decide against abortion, a supervisor told her, “That was an opportunity you just missed.” O’Donnell continues, at 8:35,

Like, I’m not going to tell a girl to kill her baby so that I can get money. And that’s what this company does. Straight up, that’s what this company does.

Aug. 18, 2015 update: Above, when I first posted this, I wrote, “That benefit to someone inevitably becomes an additional incentive to kill, whether that incentive is small or big.” I didn’t speculate about what possible mechanisms might allow that incentive to take its eventual toll; I just assumed that since the incentive existed, some mechanisms would likely develop in response. Now a woman named Nancy Tanner has come forward with an account which certainly shows us one such possible mechanism; moreover, says Tanner, that mechanism actually came into play and caused her to have an abortion she would not otherwise have had –

Lawmakers recognized that the option to consent for fetal tissue donation was something that should only be offered AFTER the woman had already consented to have the abortion. They recognized that to tell a woman that is still “on the fence” about having an abortion that she would be doing something good for the advancement of medicine by donating her fetal tissue, is akin to providing her with a moral incentive to terminate her pregnancy.

Nancy claims she was given that incentive.

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

What Did Cecile Richards Apologize For?

Deborah Nucatola, a high-level Planned Parenthood official, was caught in an undercover video discussing how they crush unborn children in one way during a normal abortion, but crush them in a different way when they have to fill an order for certain organs — livers, hearts, lungs or intact heads. Meanwhile, she eats lunch and sips wine. After the abortion, Planned Parenthood ships the orders to research companies or the middlemen thereof, receiving compensation in order to break even or possibly “do a little better than break even.”

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, quickly apologized for Nucatola’s tone. To the public, what had been upsetting about the tone was the lack of compassion for unborn children. But what exactly, according to Richards, was wrong with the tone?

Richards said:

Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video . . . one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.

The strange thing about this is that Planned Parenthood’s compassionate care, even as advertising, means compassionate care for the woman only. Little of what Nucatola said (except implicitly, perhaps, what she said about altering abortion procedures for the sake of better specimens, which is not a question of tone) reflects lack of compassion for the woman. Americans were shocked by the lack of compassion for the child, not any lack of compassion for the woman, and Richards knew that.

Richards seems to have been trying to mollify that outrage about the child. And yet she could not say, “one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect compassion for the child,” because that is not how they frame abortion. She may have considered saying “one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect compassion for the clump of tissue,” but understood how that was problematic. So she said –

Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide [to women]. In the video . . . one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect . . . compassion [for the unborn child, she wants the public to understand, so that they will feel mollified -- but she leaves "child" unspoken so she can't be held to account for admitting that there is a child]. This is unacceptable . . .

– apparently hoping that the short attention span of her listeners would not allow them to notice the segue.

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World