Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument

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Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute was kind enough to read the semi-final draft of this post and provide a brief but insightful critique. This does not mean that he necessarily endorses any of the final contents. However, I wish to take this opportunity to thank him.

 

The strongest argument for abortion rights is usually considered to be the bodily-rights argument. Perhaps the most effective variation of it that I have seen appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog:

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent?

Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?”

In the context of the abortion debate (and, significantly, in hardly any other context), the term “bodily rights” comes up often. Synonyms still more commonly used are “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy,” but I will say “rights” because it is rights that have practical consequences. If anything can help determine the practical outcome “Woman goes through with abortion,” it is a right, not an abstract “integrity” or “autonomy.”

The above fetus-implantation version or any version of the bodily-rights argument could be rebutted by pointing out that most pregnant women voluntarily engaged in a sex act that caused the pregnancy in the first place, and therefore have a responsibility for the child (the “responsibility argument”); but this rebuttal does not work in cases of rape, and is not convincing to some people in any situation – for reasons which I need not discuss here but will refer to in an appendix. Thus the argument remains logically strong. But is it logic alone that makes an argument strong or weak? I would like to approach this from the perspective that an argument is an instrument for changing some of another person’s brain circuitry, and the ideas that correlate with that circuitry, to resemble part of one’s own circuitry and ideas, and that some value-related circuitry and ideas are better for us as individuals and as a species than others. I will contend that though logical demonstrations (such as the above thought experiment) and their rebuttals have an important place in the debate about bodily rights, there is no clear logical resolution to the debate one way or the other; that in seemingly logical demonstrations there are psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical, and that those factors sway us from our normal intuitions; and that those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.

I would like to see people question where their convictions come from, because I think that the more they examine where they come from, the more they will move toward better convictions.

I would like to proceed according to the following outline:

1. Morality and moral principles, including our moral principles about when morality should be backed by legislation and when it should not, derive ultimately from intuition.

2. The intuitions of many people, particularly of most pro-lifers, say that the unborn children of pregnant women should be legally protected against abortion in some (not all) situations.

3. The intuitions of most pro-choicers differ from ours in the first place and say that the unborn children of pregnant women should not be afforded any legal protection.

4. There are some people who are, in terms of moral intuitions, “on the fence,” undecided.

5. Some people’s moral intuitions are better than those of others; in this particular area of moral investigation, the intuitions of pro-lifers are better. (Keep reading!)

I think that just as “there is no clear logical resolution to the (overall) debate one way or the other,” the correctness or incorrectness of any moral intuition cannot be logically proved, but that logic can nudge us toward correct moral intuitions, that is, help us find the correct moral intuitions within us. Under this point 5 below I will include a long section analyzing logically the concept of bodily rights. It is designed to nudge us toward more correct moral intuitions about the importance of bodily rights.

6. Though the intuitions of most pro-lifers say that unborn children should in many cases be legally protected against abortion, the intuitions of many pro-lifers also agree with pro-choicers (as do the intuitions of many undecideds) that a woman who is not pregnant (as in the above thought experiment) should not be legally subject to the forcible implantation in her of a child she did not conceive, even to save the child’s life. (And our intuitions also usually say that a violinist to whom we are hooked up should not be given legal protection from unhooking; and our intuitions also agree with various other pro-choice thought experiments designed to reject, in certain situations, legislative enforcement of a broad right to life.)

7. Human logical powers are limited, and therefore a particular situation, situation A, may seem parallel to another situation, situation B, in all the important morally-relevant ways that the human mind can think of, without the two situations necessarily being morally equivalent.

8a. The situation depicted by a thought experiment always includes some imagery of greater or lesser vividness, and some emotional content. If to our logical minds (momentarily or over a longer term) some outrageous situation, A, depicted by a pro-choice thought experiment, does seem parallel to situation B – a legal prohibition on abortion in a normal pregnancy – then the imagery and emotions of situation A get temporarily transferred to situation B. Let’s call this a process of “outrage transfer.” (Below I will touch on the search for an understanding of how events such as outrage transfer might actually work neurologically.)

b. Moreover, if we are subject to an over-fascination with logic, which many people are, then our consciences/intuitions will work with wrong information (the belief that logic can completely prove or disprove the moral equivalence of two situations) and may tell us that if there seem to be strong parallels between the situation of a pro-choice thought experiment that militates against legal protection of some living being, and the situation of pregnancy, then we should discard legal protection of the unborn in pregnancy – in spite of our earlier intuition supporting such legal protection.

8a and 8b are what I had earlier called “psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical.” I had said that those psychological factors “sway us from our normal intuitions” and I had gone on to say, “those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.”

9a. The effects of outrage transfer will fade over time. Moreover, the outrage transfer of a pro-choice thought experiment can be offset or more than offset by pro-life thought experiments such as those involving the separation of conjoined twins, or the “Cabin in the Blizzard” thought experiment of Stephen Wagner et. al. (It can be “more than offset” if only because our minds are impressionable and are always most strongly affected by the imagery and emotional triggers that stimulated them most recently.)

b. Though human logical powers are not sufficient to tell us conclusively about the moral equivalence or otherwise of two situations (as mentioned in 7 above), they are sufficient to convince us of said insufficiency, and thereby to free us from an over-fascination with logic and restore our original trust in our intuition that the unborn deserve legal protection.

 

Someone will say that I am discarding logic and that moreover I am saying that a pro-life position can only be defended by discarding logic. But that is not what I am doing. We should always apply logic to the fullest extent possible, and there are good logical rebuttals to the forcible-implantation and other pro-choice thought experiments, and I will discuss them in brief; but we should not think that logic, even on a base of intuition, can give us final answers to all moral questions, specifically the question of whether a right to life overrides bodily rights in the case of pregnancy.

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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?

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

The Ghost in the Garbage Can

 

The Ghost in the Garbage Can

There’s a dumpster near my place
That smells bad
But it’s shorter to the 7-11.

When it’s dark
Misting a little
I hear a voice.

“I was small.
I was out of sight.
And I wasn’t very smart.”

It’s always the same.

“I was small –
Like our earth from a space probe.
Invisible –
Like your hopes when you’re deep asleep.
Not smart –
So what can I say?

“I wish – well –
If I had of been big
Like Serena Williams.
They wouldn’t have messed
With Serena Williams.”

It was fading.

“If I’d had some money…”

I rubbed the mist on my face
To come to my senses.
I always hear that voice in the garbage can.
That choice in the garbage can.

Acyutananda
28 April 2015

© 2015

Abortion as Problem-Solving through Might Makes Right

 

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

No Termination without Representation in This Place

According to Secular Pro-Life’s latest blog post,

A measure recently passed in Alabama provides representation to preborn babies in judicial bypass proceedings. Judicial bypass is a procedure, mandated by the Supreme Court, which allows a teenager to petition a judge for permission to have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents. The proceeding is a matter of life or death for the preborn child, making the need for representation obvious. . . . Those who are the least capable of defending themselves are, practically by definition, those who are most deserving of legal representation. The abortion lobby may not like it, but we must continue to speak for the voiceless.

I think the SPL author means that whenever a termination is sought, the need for representation of the unborn is no less obvious than when it is sought through judicial bypass in particular. If that’s what she means, I couldn’t agree more.

This is the first time I have been aware that in any US state, a few of the unborn actually are allowed representation before termination. Now I’m trying to find out whether any of the unborn have ever won their case, and if so, by what standards the judge spared their lives. The measure was “recently passed.”

© 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

A Stopgap Response to Robin Marty’s Coverage of the March for Life

I may expand on this later.

Robin Marty, a pro-choice activist, has covered the recent March for Life here.

The article surprised pro-lifers with its relative fairness. Though not neglecting to make a couple of criticisms of it, Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life wrote, “But on the whole it was a much fairer piece than we would have gotten from any other pro-choice writer.” I don’t doubt that this is true.

However, let’s look at an important theme of the article. At one point Marty quotes Jill Stanek as saying, “Well, of course we want to get into the mainstream,” and Stanek’s son-in-law Andy Moore as saying, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate.” But there’s something strange about this. For one thing, Marty doesn’t quote Moore as using the word “mainstream.” Is Marty sure that he was referring to the mainstream — and not meaning, for example, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate from pro-choicers”? There is a difference between a dislike of socializing with some people, and being out of the mainstream. Wouldn’t a reluctance to be in the mainstream mean that one does not even want one’s policy views to prevail?

And regarding what Stanek said, well, with most Americans favoring some abortion restrictions, aren’t pro-lifers in the mainstream, which would also place their leadership in the mainstream? I wonder if Stanek said “mainstream media” rather than “mainstream.”

Stanek has tweeted regarding this, “I don’t remember what I said or the exact context of the sentence that came b4.”

If I understand correctly, by “sentence that came b4″ Stanek is referring to Marty’s: “I had told [Stanek] that the part that stuck out to me most was this idea of an alternative culture that could stand as a complete counterpart to the world the rest of us interacted in, creating its own reality that anti-abortion and especially Christian conservative true believers could exist in, untouched.”

The main interpretive theme of the article, running alongside its fascinating factual coverage of the March, seems to be that pro-life activists are younger and more numerous and more well-intentioned, and even more joyous, than Marty expected, but that nevertheless they are out of touch with reality.

A willingness to take a fresh look is unusual in public discourse, and praiseworthy. But what about the concept that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream and that some of them don’t even want to be in it?

A serious minority party or movement is usually said to be “the opposition,” but not out of the mainstream. Activists for any cause are always in a minority, but if the cause itself is popular, do we say that the activists are out of the mainstream? Those who actually marched for civil rights in Washington in 1963 were in a small minority in the US, but were they in a “bubble”?

Marty tries to support her “bubble” idea by noting that “The ‘us versus the rest of the world’ theme was consistent through the panels I attended.” But surely that is a fairly common denominator of all struggles against oppression, and pro-lifers feel that their unborn sisters and brothers are oppressed.

So the best way to make sense of the idea that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream (and that some of them don’t even want to be in it) is to infer that to Marty, their being out of the mainstream does not reflect on their numbers or their seriousness about changing policy, but rather is synonymous with their “creating [their] own reality” where their ideas will not be threatened.

And what is the real reality that, to Marty, pro-life activists are out of touch with? It is that an unborn child is a “life,” whereas its mother is a “person”: I will never, ever believe that the rights of a life developing in the womb outweigh the rights of the person carrying it, or that she has an obligation once pregnant to provide society with a live, full-term infant regardless of her own emotional or medical needs. (Which also seems to echo the occasionally-heard conspiracy theory that pro-lifers are motivated by a desire to increase population.)

The “reality” that an unborn child is not a person is of course almost the main crux of the abortion issue and is normally admitted by both sides to be highly subjective. In another post, I looked at it this way:

In thinking of the unborn, some people tend to perceive a still picture, an organism frozen in time, while some tend to perceive a process. If you kill a small clump of cells lacking, perhaps, even a beating heart, is it correct to say that you are killing an organism whose life presently has little value, or to say that you are depriving it of the complete human life which has started as a process? In fact, both statements are correct. Obviously the perception of a process is a more complete perception. If one does perceive a process, then one will also intuit that the unborn is a full-fledged member of human society, and will call it a person. But there is no way to prove logically that the process model is more valid morally than the frozen-in-time model as a basis for deciding the fate of the organism. . . . I would call the “process” perception of the unborn holistic, and would call the frozen-in-time perception reductive or mechanistic; but scientifically, neither is incorrect . . .

For some comments by pro-lifers on Marty’s article, see Secular Pro-Life’s Facebook status of February 1 at 9:24pm.

By the way, here is the one photo that to me best captures the big array of feelings that drive the March for Life.

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has!” (Margaret Mead)

 

© 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