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. In a moral framework, our bodies have a certain mystique. I don’t think that that is necessarily wrong. People are psychologically constructed with a strong sense of ownership of their bodies. [Edit: Ownership of any kind has no foundation in science, and a strong principle of individual body ownership would be very debatable philosophically, but the psychological sense is a reality. And due to sharing that sense, which is to say, due to belief in the validity of that sense – or due at least to a pragmatic recognition of the strength of that sense – society sometimes grants to its citizens surprising rights such as those of Shimp that we have just seen. A belief in the validity of that sense could also be termed a moral intuition (whether or not it is a correct moral intuition) that near-inviolable body ownership ought to be respected.]

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, and the actual ownership that society tends to think underlies it, 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 belief in the validity of that sense, 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. The concept misleadingly suggests that some defined degree of trespass of bodily boundaries will always do a defined degree of psychological 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. Bone marrow or a kidney is located deep within the body, and the uterus is located deep within the body. 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 psychological sense of body ownership that is a real harm (a real 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.

The moral intuition that body ownership ought to be respected seems to stem, as mentioned earlier, from the wish to spare our fellow human beings the mental harm of offense to their strong psychological sense of body ownership (which sense is an undeniable reality). So to answer the question whether there should be a right to refuse the use of one’s uterus – a right comparable in strength to the right to refuse to donate one’s bone marrow – we have to answer the question whether the mental harm to a woman when abortion is denied is really comparable to the mental harm that would occur if one’s bone marrow or kidney were taken forcibly. Since I think I can show that real mental harm is somewhat independent of the degree of trespass of one’s bodily boundaries, it is not enough to show that the uterus is deep within one’s body, just as bone marrow and one’s kidneys are deep within the body. Rather, the degree of real mental 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 intuitions of nearly everyone seem to 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 intuitions of many, many people (though I won’t say of everyone or nearly everyone) do NOT seem to 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 psychological harm (which is only partially and unpredictably related to the degree of trespass on the body), 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 (and the actual ownership assumed to underlie it), 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. Although the concept of bodily rights is often expressed as a very simple absolute principle, when people actually apply it to different real-life situations, we see a patchwork of different attitudes, depending on each situation. This renders the concept vague and confusing as a yardstick in any situation that has not yet been resolved, such as a proposal to abort. It turns out that the degree of mental harm caused by offense to one’s sense of ownership, which society believes to be 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.

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Shame and Shaming, Stigma and Stigmatizing

Shame: Shame is the distressing sense of having done wrong or of having an intent to do wrong. The capacity for feeling shame is inseparable from our capacity to distinguish right from wrong. If we had no capacity for shame, no conscience, we would either not know right from wrong, or would not care about the difference. Shame is a specific kind of emotional pain. It is our internal mechanism for correcting our behavior. The value of physical pain, as an alarm system, is clear, and the capacity for shame is fundamentally as salutary as a capacity for physical pain.

But sometimes we have done something wrong and fail to consciously feel shame as we should. This is where shaming can be helpful.

Before we touch on shaming, though, let’s look at abortion scenarios. Should a woman who aborts, and those who help her abort, always feel shame? It’s clearly not always. In an ectopic pregnancy the unborn cannot realistically be saved regardless of what the woman might do. Different pro-lifers would grant that in different other medical situations as well, abortion is morally justified or even morally the best course. And we can even imagine situations without unusual medical risk where the plight of a woman is so pathetic – she is fifteen, uneducated, isolated, mentally tortured by relatives – that if she is driven to abort or for that matter to commit infanticide, that would simply be a tale of her suffering, and not an occasion for her repentance, any more than if she had been physically tortured or tied down to the operating table. It is simply in the nature of extremes that they entail exceptions to normal moral standards.

If it is even the case that another young woman has been totally brainwashed by her culture to think of the unborn as insignificant and think of abortion as heroic, and if that brainwashing is really total, then shame would not be psychologically natural till she begins to awaken from the spell.

But now let’s talk about relativities. If the woman’s situation were slightly less pathetic than that of the above isolated fifteen-year-old – if the woman were slightly less distraught, or slightly less brainwashed – and she aborted, then a slight degree of shame would be psychologically natural. And if the woman’s situation were even a bit less pathetic than that, then even a bit more shame would be in the natural order . . . there will be a gradation. The more the selfishness of any action, the more shame one should feel.

Shaming: Shaming means to intentionally cause another person to feel shame. But it is possible to cause another person to feel shame at times when it is not appropriate for the person to feel that way, which is obviously a negative thing, as well as to cause them to feel shame at times when it is appropriate for them to feel that way. And if we cause them to feel shame at times when it is appropriate for them to feel that way, is that always a positive thing?

If another person can awaken in me something that is salutary for me, it would seem to be that person’s moral duty to do so. But let’s see what happens when we try to make someone feel an appropriate kind of shame. That is, they have done something that we consider genuinely wrong, and we try to awaken in them the kind of shame that would ideally have awakened in them automatically – shame for their genuinely wrong action. There are different scenarios that are possible:

1. We may be mistaken about right and wrong. The person may have done nothing wrong. Yet because of the psychological phenomenon of suggestibility, it is possible that we may succeed in making them feel ashamed, even when they should not feel ashamed. This would be a near-disaster. This does not mean that we should never try to awaken shame in anyone, but it tells us that the enterprise is tricky and precarious, and should always make us think twice.

2. Because of the psychological phenomenon of defensiveness, it is hugely possible that even when someone should feel ashamed of something, trying to shame them will backfire. Again, it is a tricky situation.

3. Nevertheless, I well remember a couple of times in my life when I received a scolding from some person I respected, and I was compelled to admit to myself wrongdoing that I had not been able to admit to myself without that intervention. I fully underwent “the distressing sense of having done wrong,” I emerged from it a better person, and any possibility was removed of repeating the same mistake. It was an unqualified win. (Although someone with very fragile self-esteem might undergo the distress without ever emerging.)

In the abortion context, if someone has been involved in one and there is little chance they will repeat it, they might nevertheless stand to gain in terms of personal growth by feeling the shame that is appropriate for them. But considering that the personal growth of that one person is the only possible benefit in that situation and considering the likelihood that a shaming attempt will backfire and contribute to negative stereotypes of pro-lifers, the attempt should rarely be made. If, on the other hand, the person is still contemplating their first abortion or is indeed at risk of repeating, we can never forget that awakening shame in the person, if done just right, might save a life, perhaps multiple lives, and therefore it has to be considered as one possible tool.

In a thoughtful blog post, Josh Brahm expressed the view that shaming has a definite place. There is a right kind of shaming about abortion. But when we talk about that right kind of shaming, he suggested, it would be better not to say “shaming”.

I think it’s true that the word has come to have a connotation of an uncharitable, self-righteousness kind of shaming. Perhaps we could instead say “conscience-awakening.”

And for shaming to work out right, Brahm said, it should, with rare exceptions, be attempted only by a friend. I would broaden that suggestion a very little. I think such “conscience-awakening” can be done by anyone who can find a receptive ear in an abortion-minded woman. That “anyone” would indeed normally be a friend. But an abortion-minded woman who had less false pride than most of us have, might accept a loving kind of shaming coming from a sidewalk counselor. I would expect such cases to be exceptional.

There are moral relativists of the half-baked kind, and others who find it convenient, who try to shame shaming. Shaming is not wrong, it can be very right, but it is tricky. (For myself, considering all the risks involved, I have never been in a position where I felt that I should try shaming anyone personally in relation to an abortion. On occasion pro-choicers have told me about abortions they have been personally involved in, but when they do, I don’t weigh in with any moral opinion of mine unless the abortion situation eventually gets framed in a more abstract and impersonal way.)

Those who try to shame shaming, by the way, sometimes go so far as to try to cast the expression of purely scientific facts about the destruction caused by abortion as an unacceptable form of shaming. It may be that the knowledge of such facts will awaken shame in some people, but even if such shame were not a good thing, the whole issue could hardly be discussed responsibly without knowledge of the scientific facts.

Stigma: Who or what can carry a stigma (a mark of disgrace)? People can carry stigmas, but unless some people carry a hereditary stigma under the belief system of some culture, people carry stigmas because they as individuals have performed some particular action. So it is the action, more fundamentally than the person, that carries the stigma. If any action carries a stigma in a particular society, that simply means that that action has a bad reputation in that society.

And basically it is a good thing, in any society, for bad actions to have a bad reputation. If a society has any sense of right and wrong, then the actions it considers wrong are automatically and unavoidably stigmatized. For there to be no stigmas in a society would mean that the society does not have any standards of right and wrong at all. Just as an individual cannot have a sense of right and wrong without also having a sense of shame, a society cannot have a sense of right and wrong without also applying stigmas.

Finally, an action that carries a stigma is an action of which one ought to be ashamed. So any wrong action entails both stigma and shame: the stigma is society framing the action as wrong, and shame is the internal response of anyone who has performed the action (if they have a functioning conscience).

Stigmatizing: To stigmatize is to apply a stigma to an action or to the person who performs the action. Bad actions should have bad reputations, and in order for a bad action to have a bad reputation, society has to assign it that bad reputation. Stigmatizing is nothing more than that. Millennia ago, societies stigmatized stealing. It was a very necessary thing to do.

In English usage, however, “stigmatizing,” like “shaming,” has come to have generally a bad connotation. Some academic study of destructive social rejection and discrimination seems to have exacerbated things by redefining “stigma” and “stigmatize” to necessarily include such destructiveness. According to a summary of Erving Goffman’s analysis,

The stigmatized are ostracized, devalued, rejected, scorned and shunned. They experience discrimination and prejudice in the realms of employment and housing. . . . negative physical and mental health outcomes. . . . often experience psychological distress and many view themselves contemptuously.

Such destructive social rejection certainly deserves to be studied. But the fact that Dr. Goffman studied such things does not mean that his definition of “stigmatize,” which seems to automatically include such things, is necessarily the most correct definition. I think we would be within our rights to define the word in a more neutral way – “to assign a bad reputation to a kind of action that may well deserve a bad reputation.”

 

In the final analysis, though, semantic questions are not our main concern. The basic issue for us is whether we want to state in no uncertain terms what most of us feel, that abortion is very wrong, and when we want to state it. The difficulty in answering that question is that even more than in the case of other wrongdoings, compulsion will always be of limited effect in reducing abortions. Even once we have laws against abortion, enforcement will always be difficult, and thus the persuasion of abortion-minded women on a personal level will always be very important. And how best to persuade them? A quip that made the headlines a while back comes to mind: “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers,” [General Mattis] told Mr. Trump during their meeting in November . . . “and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

I think we need to be a tough cop on the level of the abortion issue, and state unequivocally that abortion is evil. But we should be a soft cop on the level of the individual case, the case of each abortion-minded woman. I don’t say that we should literally use beer or cigarettes, but I do say, heeding the counsel of such diverse personalities as Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Abby Johnson, that what we need is love.

As mentioned, the words we use for our methods are not the most important thing. We can say “conscience-awakening” instead of “shaming.” We can say “Let’s raise consciousness about abortion” instead of “Let’s stigmatize abortion.” But presently a certain vocal faction of the pro-choice side is going all out to normalize abortion. We should not let that happen. We should make sure that every woman who considers abortion will at least hear emphatic voices in the culture and in the media saying “Abortion is not okay.”

© 2017

 

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

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 Dogma Lives Loudly within You”

Amy Barrett is a nominee for a federal judgeship. During the confirmation hearings, on September 6, Senator Dianne Feinstein said to Barrett, “. . . when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”

The reactions to that statement came from different angles. Many Catholics took Feinstein’s declaration as anti-Catholic bigotry. They flocked to the hashtag #DogmaLivesLoudly and found ways to puncture the statement, or to attempt to puncture it. The National Review also attacked it as bigotry. Other conservative media saw the statement as violating the spirit of the First Amendment. The president of Notre Dame echoed both themes in a letter to Feinstein.

While the First Amendment would render unconstitutional any law barring a candidate or nominee from office on religious grounds, neither that amendment nor any law prohibits a voter from voting against a candidate on the basis of the candidate’s religion, nor prohibits a senator from voting against a nominee on the basis of the nominee’s religion. Since we do not know what goes on in people’s hearts, after all, such a law would be unenforceable. But certainly to announce that one is using a nominee’s religion as a test of their qualification for office would violate an unspoken norm.

The basis for a “concern” by Feinstein or anyone about a candidate or nominee’s religion would of course be the idea that an officeholder’s religion might influence their policy decisions in adverse, perhaps unconstitutional, ways. (Indeed, such an outcome hardly seems an impossibility.) That concern is said to have cost Al Smith, a Catholic, the Democratic presidential nomination in 1928. John Kennedy’s general-election campaign was in danger for the same reason in 1960, and he gave a major speech in which he said:

I do not speak for my church on public matters. . . . Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views [his views that church and state should be separate], in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.

Whether or not those words are completely convincing (considering that one’s conscience is probably shaped by one’s religion), Kennedy got elected. And though we never really know what is in the hearts of voters or of senators when they cast their votes, this same kind of formula seems to have served Catholic candidates and nominees well since that time.

But I would like to look at Feinstein’s words from a different angle yet. I would like to look at her words as an argument for abortion rights. Considering that Feinstein said, “that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country,” her statement can only be understood in relation to gay rights or abortion rights, and when The National Review solicited and received a statement from Feinstein’s office, the statement said in part: “. . . Senator Feinstein questioned [Barrett] about whether she could separate her personal views from the law, particularly regarding women’s reproductive rights.”

Now, Feinstein could possibly be of the belief that officeholders’ policies should not be based on their religious doctrines regardless of whether those policies happen to be good or bad. But common sense tells us that Feinstein would be unlikely to object to a policy she agreed with, merely because an officeholder had arrived at the policy via a religious route. Moreover, doesn’t the word “dogma” have a negative connotation? Would Feinstein use the word “dogma” for a religious teaching that she, as a Democrat, liked – perhaps Jesus’s teaching that people should pay their taxes (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”)?

The word “dogma” in its origin had a neutral meaning. It simply meant principles laid down by some authority as incontrovertible. But it is now generally used in a pejorative way. The Collins dictionary says, “If you refer to a belief or a system of beliefs as a dogma, you disapprove of it because people are expected to accept that it is true, without questioning it.” If Feinstein meant the word in a pejorative way, then she certainly meant that any distaste for abortion on Barrett’s part should be looked at with suspicion.

But let’s interpret Feinstein’s words in a minimally speculative way. In an abortion context (which Feinstein’s office admitted was the context of the statement), the literal words “the dogma lives loudly within you” merely register the fact that any distaste for abortion that might exist on Barrett’s part would happen to coincide with Catholic doctrine, which Barrett happens to strongly feel. But why would such a coincidence be a cause for “concern”? It would not be. “Concern” makes it clear that Feinstein was saying, in effect:

“We can assume that Amy Barrett would not have come to any distaste for abortion without Catholic doctrine. She would not have come to it through a rational process. I believe that an anti-abortion view is irrational and that nobody would come to it if not for some irrational doctrine.”

What Feinstein is trying to say, most fundamentally, is not that opposition to abortion is a Catholic idea, but that it is a bad idea.

That is a statement we can come to grips with. The issue is not whether an idea happens to be the doctrine of a particular church, or of any church. The issue is whether an idea is, from a rational point of view, good or bad. Let Sen. Feinstein debate a thoughtful pro-lifer, religious or atheistic, and we will find out whose ideas are bad.

Yet there’s no denying that Feinstein’s argument, or “argument,” will be effective with some people. The incident points up once again the urgency for the pro-life movement to escape from its religious image. Catholics have held the line against abortion around the world for decades, but in the US the image of the “Catholic hierarchy” has always been ammunition for the abortion side. Many Catholics and other Christians understand this as well as secular pro-lifers do.

© 2017

 

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

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

Is It Possible To Be Pro-CHOICE and Feminist?

 

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

 

Some further thoughts on the SPL blog post

From the post: In relation to issue 3 above, pro-lifers often point out that legal abortion is called “pro-choice,” and then proceed to object (as at 15:43 in the video) “It’s not pro-choice when we feel like we have no choice.” This quip does make a good point about social conditions, but it is framed as if it demolishes either the term “pro-choice” or the pro-choice policy; and does it really succeed in doing either? I think that all this argument really does is to play on two different meanings of the word “choice.” There is no real inconsistency here in pro-choicers’ position.

The fact that for many teenaged girls, especially, under present social conditions, it would be disastrous to have a baby (that is, having a baby is not a palatable “choice,” since it means financial ruin or rejection by one’s family or beatings from one’s boyfriend) hardly proves that allowing abortion (known as the “pro-choice” social policy) is a flawed position. If anything, the fact that for many girls there is no palatable alternative bolsters, in itself, the case for allowing abortion.

Then from the pro-choice side we regularly hear a guilt-by-association argument that could be called the “pro-birth argument.” The argument goes, in effect, “Because many who identify as pro-life on abortion hold obnoxious positions and harm women’s interests on other issues, the pro-life position on abortion must also be obnoxious and harmful to women’s interests.” On the panel, this was the argument on which Pamela Merritt mainly relied (though she did refer, more briefly, to some other arguments).

Merritt certainly argued convincingly and memorably that many pro-life politicians are destructive in many ways to the well-being of the female gender (and everyone else). But what does that really prove in terms of whether abortion is moral, whether abortion should be legal, or whether a feminist should be pro-choice or pro-life? As an argument against the pro-life positions even of the Missouri politicians she focused on, hers was an ad hominem, and against the pro-life positions of three of her fellow panelists, it was a strawman as well.

In order to defeat the pro-life position, one has to defeat the most ideal version of it. If pro-choicers were able to defeat the most ideal version – namely, the consistent pro-life position – they would certainly do so. If they try to defeat a tarnished version of the pro-life position, it is simply an admission that they are unable to defeat the ideal one. It should be possible to make pro-choicers see that and hence to abandon that argument.

And when she said that, things came to a head. Aimee Murphy suggested that the word “person” could be dispensed with, since “if we’re talking human rights” what we want to know is who is a human. “At the moment of fertilization you have two human gametes; they fuse; it’s a member of the same species.” Merritt tried to dismiss that with “We’ve got science on one side, we’ve got science on the other side,” but Murphy shot back, “Do you have an embryology textbook that can back that up?” Merritt replied, “For every textbook that you have, there has been a textbook produced on the other side.” The two were not in a situation where they could immediately produce their documentation, so that discussion ended there. But I think that anyone who does delve into the documentation will decide that Murphy won that debate.

Personally I think we could even avoid debates about present humanity by asking simply, “At what point in development will we, if we kill it, deprive an individual organism – whatever name we may give to that organism – of the conscious human life it would likely have had in the future?”

Under The highlights, for me, in the blog post, I provided a quote from Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. Another good one at 78:08: “In gaining our liberation, I believe we have taken that same oppression and passed it down to the unborn being. . . . We should be the ones speaking up and saying we will never view any member of the human family as property, especially the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”

Klein-Hattori and Merritt found their stereotypes of pro-lifers exploded. Merritt said at 90:20 “What you’re describing is not pro-life that I experience and that millions of people experience . . . [it] is really blowing my mind.” Klein-Hattori said at 67:40 “One of the things that has me most excited is to hear the way that the pro-life women up here are talking.”

She went on, “To say that we do need to remove all of these things, to dismantle and rebuild a world . . . that’s fantastic . . . whether abortion rights have to stay central, I believe that they do. . . . the way that people talk about abortion is socially constructed. . . . all of this is socially constructed.” But this would mean that her view that abortion should be normalized is also socially constructed; so how can we decide to normalize it? While I agree that we need to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy, how can she be sure that we do not need to dismantle Planned Parenthood supremacy? This must be a common type of question, so no doubt postmodernist philosophy has some answer.

 

A topic for another time is the stigmatization of abortion, criticized by Merritt at 72:42. If abortion is barbaric but most of the women involved are victims, is there a way to be honest about the barbarity without doing further damage to countless women?

 

If “the winning future for the pro-life movement is . . . young, feminist, and disproportionately people of color,” as Prof. Charles Camosy has written, that event may have had an importance that is hard to estimate.

The event merited at least a PhD thesis, but space did not allow.

Other articles on the event:

Both sides on abortion debate ponder if pro-lifers can also be feminists

How abortion divides the feminist movement

Feminists and pro-lifers can join forces – and why they should

 

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

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

Why Focus on Abortion?

 

This essay was first published, with illustrations, in Life Matters Journal Volume 5 Issue 5 — April 2017.

 

I think I’m not alone among pro-life advocates, in that people sometimes ask me, “Why only abortion? Why do you advocate on this issue only?” When pro-choicers ask me that question, it often takes the form of “Why don’t you talk about the problems of women?”

My first reply might be that I do not in fact ignore other issues. I have done a lot of pondering about the miserable treatment of women throughout most of history, in most of the world, and I have even ventured to write about a pro-life feminist approach toward rectifying all of that. I volunteer for an organization that works to lift people out of poverty.

Most of the pro-lifers I know actually do approach abortion with a holistic view of the world. But it is true that some of us, including me, do also spend a disproportionate amount of our advocacy time focused on the abortion issue specifically.

For me, this is because I feel that the pro-life cause, much more than any other cause, can be a vehicle for a higher human consciousness that will uplift us morally in how we respond to all issues, not only the abortion issue.

As Javier Cuadros wrote:

Science is a process of knowledge in which we penetrate ever deeper. . . . As the observations multiply . . . it is typical that the original appearances . . . are shown to be incorrect. The reality is different. . . . This is why I have always been puzzled about the reluctance of scientists to apply the same program of investigation to the nature of the human embryo. Are human embryos men and women and thus entitled to the inalienable right to life and respect for their dignity and physical integrity, or are they not? Here, many scientists . . . are for applying the simple criterion of appearances. No, [embryos] are not men and women, they say, because they do not look like a person. Agreed, they do not look like a developed human being. But the earth looks like it is stationary. . . . shape does not make a human being. It has been shown that the most fundamental element of the presence and identity of a human being is the existence of [complete human genetic information] . . .

 
Most people in the world, if we may indulge in broad strokes, have one of these two perceptions of the early unborn: 1) either they feel that the early unborn is not possessed of the moral value of other human beings because it doesn’t look like most of the human beings we know (or doesn’t seem quite as bright as most of the human beings we know, or some such criterion); or 2) they feel that the early unborn does have the same moral value as the other human beings we know because the genetic information it possesses has set it on an inexorable path – a path such that it will soon enough be a human being similar to others we know (if only somebody doesn’t kill it first).

And I think that among those who hold the second category of perception, there are also some who got there without an understanding of DNA and chromosomes. They got there simply by pondering deeply over some such thought as this: “A human life is one seamless process that has to start somewhere, and how can it be expected that it won’t start extremely small?”

Now, can we call either of the two perceptions better than the other? Well, the first perception is like a still picture. It is a perception of the organism as if it were frozen in time. The second perception is of a process. If you kill a small clump of cells lacking, perhaps, even a beating heart, it is correct to say that you are killing an organism whose life presently has little value; and that therefore the organism itself would – if no future lay ahead of it – have little value. But it is also correct to say that you are depriving that organism of the complete human life which has started in it as a process. We cannot deem that either perception is more scientific than the other. But obviously the perception of the process is a more complete perception.

The perception of the process is not necessarily more scientific, but it is more complete. It is richer. I think that perception helps explain the joy that we see on the faces of “the pro-life generation” at the March for Life and on almost every campus in the country. So for me, it reflects the higher consciousness that I spoke of above, a more evolved consciousness. It reflects a forward evolution in a person’s inner world. It reflects an expansion.

When Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage in 2012, after sixteen years in politics, he famously described that pivot of his as “an evolution.” Well, Mr. Obama, that’s great! Evolution is a liberating experience. Any one person’s moral evolution surely has wonderful consequences for us all. And now, Mr. Obama – and Hillary Clinton, and Cecile Richards, and Gloria Steinem – you have a chance to go on evolving, to evolve still more. Wouldn’t it be great to do so? The path is before you. We’ll all be cheering you on.

Though not wishing to minimize how big an evolutionary step it was for straight people to come to perceive gays as fully human, I think that coming to perceive embryos as fully human will be an even bigger step. It will also be a bigger step than coming to perceive other races as fully human, or other genders as fully human, or the differently abled as fully human. Why? Because – to get back to Cuadros above – gay people, and people of other races and genders, and the differently abled, look like persons. We can “apply the simple criterion of appearances.” Urgent though it is to advocate the causes of refugees and earthquake victims, at least society may be able to see them as human beings without our help – not so, it seems, for the unborn.

Moreover, let us remember Martin Luther King’s observation that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Unlike other groups that have won society’s respect, the preborn do not themselves strike the least fear in the hearts of those who would mistreat them. If rights are to be secured for them, it will be the first time in history that rights have been secured for a human group who could not fight back somewhat, or at least clamor shrilly. So coming to truly perceive the unborn as fully human, though completely in accord with science, will be a grander mental achievement than in the case of other groups. This last frontier of civil rights will be the most difficult. But by the same token it will represent a more significant expansion of consciousness.

A pro-life position taken on this basis will mean a greater connectedness with our origins and hence a greater connectedness with the universe. This connectedness will certainly spill over into all our activities and all our decisions. It will be a big evolutionary step, a step to what I called above “a higher human consciousness that will uplift us morally in how we respond to all issues, not only the abortion issue.”

I also said, however, that “the pro-life cause, much more than any other cause, can be a vehicle for a higher human consciousness.” The cause may seem clearly to be a way in which that higher consciousness gets expressed when one already has that consciousness, but is the cause also a vehicle for creating such a consciousness in those who don’t yet have it?

It is natural for the mind to try to confine one’s human family to a small circle. We fear having to care for people, or kinds of people, outside that circle. Our mental walls constructed around that circle, however, get smashed when confronted by facts that are incompatible with such encirclement, or confronted by incompatible, yet persuasive, viewpoints coming from people who command our respect. The smashing of our mental walls is an uncomfortable experience, a disturbing experience, but once one manages to grasp the idea that a human life is one seamless process, and hence equally valuable at all points in time, it is an idea that becomes very persuasive. It is a more complete view than to perceive the organism as if it were frozen in time. Moreover, once we include within the circle of our family people we had formerly excluded, we emerge with fewer fears than we had before. In this way also our minds expand. Thus the pro-life cause can be a vehicle for a higher human consciousness, and thus this, to me, is the issue to focus on.

People whom we do not respect, however, are unlikely to persuade us. Among other things, pro-life advocates who are to be persuasive must be people who truly have that expanded vision – which cannot be said of all pro-life advocates. I think that many religious people who are originally pro-life by virtue of rote religious doctrine later become prompted by their doctrines, or by other forces, to do some deep thinking of their own, and develop that expanded vision. But those who came to a pro-life position out of rote religious doctrine alone (without further reflection), not to mention those who came to it out of political opportunism, will not have that vision. Only those who genuinely have it will be able to articulate it in a way that touches non-believers; others may even create a big backlash among skeptics.

A few years back John Koenig coined the word “sonder,” a noun whose definition begins, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own . . .” It is the ultimate sense of human connectedness, and as the founder of Life Matters Journal has pointed out, it is a state of mind out of which consistent pro-life behavior in all one’s actions must inevitably flow. I think that activism on behalf of the unborn can do more than anything else to further this outlook in the human race.

Now I have said a lot about establishing in people’s minds the perception that the unborn is a full-fledged member of our human family. But by now some will be asking, in order for the pro-life cause to prevail, will such convincing alone be sufficient? What about the bodily-rights position, which concedes for the sake of argument that the unborn is indeed fully human, yet claims a right to kill it nonetheless? But I think that the understanding that the preborn is a full-fledged member of our human family is, in fact, virtually sufficient. It seems to me almost always that those who concede for the sake of argument that the unborn is truly a human being, yet claim a right to kill, make that concession only for the sake of argument. Very few of them – perhaps only Naomi Wolf and Camille Paglia – have made that concession in their hearts. I think that almost anyone who really sees the unborn as our little sisters and brothers, will quickly dig a little deeper and discover the weaknesses in the bodily-rights argument.

 

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

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

Not My Reality

 

A blog post for April Fool’s Day.

 

Disease. Old age. Death.

Social scientists at the University of Siddharth have identified three problems in modern life which they say are already causing severe strains and may erode public confidence if not addressed soon.

The project lead, Rakhesh Chowdury, explained that in an aging society, death, in particular, is likely to bring into question the reliability of life.

When asked what steps he recommended, he said he was encouraged by some recent grassroots initiatives, particularly the #NotMyReality movement.

On Wednesday we contacted a spokesman for the movement, who said that plans were under way for massive marches on all the capitals of the world. Pointing to recent developments in the US, he said that the Not My President movement was good, but predicted that it would be inadequate to address the full extent of the crisis. He pointed out that under previous administrations also there had been endemic disease, old age and death.

He claimed that a billion people would turn out for the marches on February 29. “This is an issue that cuts across partisan lines,” he said.

A conservative source agreed. “We’re going to make the Garden of Eden great again. If we can’t control our mortality, our wellness, and our age, what is the use in controlling our borders?”

Some expressed skepticism, however. “This has been going on for a long time,” said Jayprakash Mahato, a pan vendor in Calcutta. “We should have acted immediately after evolving from Homo erectus. Solving the problem now will require huge sacrifices, and I just don’t see the necessary political will in our current generation of leaders.”

Donations to the March may be made via PayPal at goodluck4568@gmail.com

© 2017

 

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A Civilization That Was

 

A blog post for April Fool’s Day.

 

Beneath the sagebrush and grasses of what is now the Oregon high desert, there was once an advanced civilization, archeologists revealed on Friday.

Standing on the rim of one of a dozen recent excavations, Dr. Karuna Banerjee, leader of a team from the University of Minnesota, talked to reporters. Large-rimmed dark glasses protected her eyes from the fierce sunlight. She explained that the team had been able to deduce a lot from the art themes on the pottery of that vanished race, and from the minimal number of lethal weapons the team had unearthed. It was clear, she said, that they had been a well-educated people, and had developed their arts to a high degree. Technologically they had been unequalled for their time. They had had a culture that espoused tolerance, and values of mutual respect. “Overall,” she said, “I find it heartwarming to think of such a people, though a few things about them might raise eyebrows today.”

Banerjee particularly contrasted those people, whom her team had named the “Ivies,” with one tribe of their nearest neighbors. Those neighbors, she said, had been a warlike people, aggressive toward the “Ivies” and toward all their other neighbors. They had been unkind as well to those of their own people who were too fat, or weak, or differently abled. The researchers had dubbed that tribe the “Yokels.”

For the Ivies, those dull-witted neighbors of theirs, clinging to their spears and their religion, were sometimes a source of amusement. The martial contests of those people were not art, the Ivies said. In moments of pity, the Ivies would discuss how they might best be able to help those neighbors to “change their deep-seated religious beliefs.”

The most hilarious thing of all, to the sophisticated Ivies, was how those neighboring people would go into hissy fits about the joyful Ivy custom known as the “happy send-off.”

The “happy send-off” was entirely based on empirical reality. It is, after all, an observable and undeniable fact of the natural world that life leads to death. Therefore, the best way to celebrate life is simply to hasten death. “We’re living in the sixteenth century and we have no use for the superstitions of the past,” they would say. “We believe in science and rationality.”

In Ivy society, one out of every five children was selected to be given a happy send-off. The Ivies would organize outdoor concerts from time to time, and the participating bands would set up on the steps of that culture’s pyramidal temples. While the bands played and the populace swayed to the rhythm, some of the designated children would be led, one by one, to the top of the temple and “sent off.”

Sometimes the parents needed convincing. “It is not killing,” the Ivies would explain. “Nature is cyclical, and this is just speeding up your children’s life cycle. It nourishes the overall quality of Ivy life and improves the lives of all our other children.”

“And of our pets, too,” they would sometimes add.

Children who had been selected were nicknamed “raindrops” – by falling they would improve the lives of others – and were no longer considered people. “Why should they grow up as unwanted boys and girls?” the Ivies would say. “This is a win for everybody. We call it ‘send-off care.’ Have you got something against freedom and progress?” Most bands were happy to perform without remuneration, and the proceeds would go to support the white-coated personnel of the organization that performed the send-offs.

“If you don’t like send-offs,” the Ivies would say, “then don’t attend the concerts. But why spoil our lifestyle choices with your hypocritical rants? This is non-negotiable. Send-offs on demand – without apology!”

Banerjee was asked why such an advanced civilization had survived for such a short time. “There came a point,” she replied, “when nearly everyone in the society had played some role or other in the happy send-offs. The treatment of people as objects began to take more and more forms in that society, not only the happy send-offs. When that occurred, because of their long-time participation in the send-offs, those with a capacity for leadership were not in a position to criticize.

“There was no violent breakdown of society, no,” she went on. “Blood did not start flowing in the streets. But when people’s natural urge for idealism finds only such banal outlets, clamoring for ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ ‘my freedom,’ ‘my rights,’ cynicism grows and grows. The Ivies did not entirely lose their will to live, but they lost that necessary edge.”

Banerjee was asked what had happened to the Yokels. “They began to reflect,” she replied, “that if children should not be sacrificially objectified, maybe other forms of objectification are wrong also. Maybe we should treat everybody in our society better. Maybe we should stop our unjust wars. They learned to cooperate with other tribes.”

“They changed,” Banerjee said. “Their civilization lasted for a long time.”

Shadows lengthened over the high desert as the sun set. Dr. Banerjee folded her dark glasses and grew pensive. “I always feel we can learn a lot from these ancient civilizations,” she said.

© 2017

 

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

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

Why It’s Not Murder

At Wayne State University last November 16, Scott Klusendorf, perhaps the dean of pro-life apologists, ably debated abortion with Nadine Strossen, a former president of the ACLU. Klusendorf based his pro-life argument on the humanity of the unborn and the wrongness of intentionally killing an innocent human being.

At 1:08:57 Klusendorf indicates a possible openness to health exceptions. Strossen insists on more specifics – what kind of health condition would be serious enough to reach the threshold at which Klusendorf would agree to make an exception? Klusendorf replies:

Sure, I’ll answer that. Let me make an observation, though. Even if my answer were inconsistent, it wouldn’t eradicate the syllogism I put forward. . . . So even if I answered this question in a way that seemed inconsistent with my view, it would only show I’m inconsistent. It wouldn’t rule out the evidence I presented.

Then he brings up Doe v. Bolton’s overly-broad standard of “health,” and the empirical rarity of cases that would raise a real ethical question; but Strossen insists on a specific example even if “hypothetically,” and offers “Let’s say she will not lose her life, but she will be rendered infertile . . . ?” Klusendorf replies, “In that case the mother stands to lose one good, the child stands to lose an ultimate good” – meaning that impending infertility would not be a sufficient reason to abort. Strossen then moves on to other topics.

So Klusendorf laid the groundwork for a defense in case he might say something “inconsistent.” In the event, he was not forced to say anything inconsistent, but to my mind Strossen let him off the hook. Suppose instead of the infertility example, she had framed the hypothetical as “Let’s say she will not lose her life, but most likely her brain will be damaged, seriously affecting her motor skills and memory for the rest of her life.”

I don’t know what Klusendorf would have replied to that example, but I, and I think many pro-lifers, would say, “In that case, no, she should be allowed to abort if she so decides. I will admire her if she doesn’t, but in terms of legal obligation, society should not compel her to carry the pregnancy.”

Yet it remains generally true for my brand of pro-lifers that “It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being,” and it remains true for us that the unborn is an innocent human being – so that it would seem impermissible to kill it. Moreover, if in an analogous situation a mother could avoid serious brain damage only by killing her innocent born child, it would almost certainly be illegal for her to do so. Suppose that in an earthquake a mother and her toddler become trapped in a small space beneath the rubble. They can hear the voices of rescuers a few yards above them, but the air is running out and the mother’s brain will become damaged by oxygen deprivation if the toddler keeps breathing also. If she were to put her hand over the toddler’s mouth and nose, thus killing it, that would almost certainly be illegal. Thus since the unborn is a human being like the toddler, allowing the woman to abort, as I and many pro-lifers would do, would seem inconsistent both with existing legal protections for born human beings, and with a syllogism that we basically support.

How to explain this? Do many pro-lifers not really believe that the unborn is an innocent human being? Well, clearly it is innocent, so the question becomes, do we not really believe that it is a human being? (Many pro-choicers, of course, like to push the idea that we do not really believe that.)

The answer is: we do believe that the unborn is an innocent human being, but we feel that society has no right to compel anyone to take huge risks with their body, even to save the life of an innocent human being.

Virtually all pro-lifers, like anyone else, respect the mental sense of body ownership that underlies the concept of bodily rights. The importance accorded to that sense rests on a kind of intuition, and hence the importance varies somewhat from person to person, but I don’t think there is a night-and-day difference in that regard between pro-lifers as a group and pro-choicers as a group. To put it more simply, pro-lifers as well as pro-choicers believe in “bodily rights.” So pro-lifers feel that as a moral starting point, or as a default moral principle, everyone should have a legal right to refuse to let their body be used unless they give permission. Certainly one’s body cannot be used for just any purpose under the sun. Where pro-lifers differ from pro-choicers is that pro-lifers are likely to feel that a woman should not have that legal right when her body is the only hope for survival of a new human being – a situation that they feel confers some degree of responsibility on her. (I have discussed elsewhere how I, as one pro-lifer, come to that conclusion.)

Yet the tipping of the scales on the side of the child’s life is not an extremely pronounced one. The belief in a default principle of bodily rights, on one side of the balance, never disappears, with the consequence that for some pro-lifers (including me), if the woman’s pregnancy is expected to be exceptionally rough or dangerous, then, in this conflict of rights, her bodily rights will again prevail. It is not that the unborn is not what Klusendorf calls a “distinct, living and whole human being;” it is indeed that human being; but society has no right to compel anyone to take huge risks with their body, even to save the life of an innocent human being.

This explains and resolves the seeming inconsistency. If in a situation analogous to pregnancy a mother could avoid lifetime brain damage only by killing her innocent born child, it would almost certainly be illegal for her to do so, whereas if a pregnant woman could avoid lifetime brain damage only by killing her innocent unborn child, many of us would allow that. The difference is bodily rights that operate when a person’s body stands to be used in a particular way, but otherwise do not operate.

And a corollary is this: For pro-lifers such as us, society’s right to outlaw abortion in the case of a normal pregnancy is based, as mentioned, on a somewhat close balance. On one side of the balance is the value of a human life, on the other side, the burdens of a normal pregnancy coupled with the woman’s bodily rights. The human life wins out. But the woman’s bodily rights that are there by default never disappear; and therefore if a normally pregnant woman violates the law and claims those default bodily rights, it is not fully the same as killing a born child who is not infringing on her bodily rights. It is, though a defiance of the law, something less than murder.

Almost all pro-lifers think of the unborn at any stage as full-fledged persons, as members of our human family. And I think it is safe to say that very few pro-choicers think of them that way. Pro-choicers who use bodily-rights arguments think that they can justify abortion regardless of unborn personhood (as mentioned, I find that bodily-rights approach strong but not quite strong enough in normal pregnancies). So those who use such an approach normally concede for the sake of argument that the unborn are persons; but I think that almost always, they make that concession only for the sake of argument. As pro-choicers who genuinely think of the unborn as persons, I can only think of Naomi Wolf, who said, “Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the foetus, in its full humanity, must die. But it is never right or necessary to minimise the value of the lives involved,” and Camille Paglia, who said, “A liberal credo that is variously anti-war, anti-fur, vegan, and committed to environmental protection of endangered species like the sage grouse or spotted owl should not be so stridently withholding its imagination and compassion from the unborn.” I don’t know how far those two base the pro-choice position they hold on bodily rights, but any pro-choicers who do rely on bodily rights, and genuinely see the unborn as persons, could make statements just like theirs.

So how should we frame a face-off over a normal pregnancy, between pro-lifers such as me, and those few bodily-rights pro-choicers who genuinely see the unborn as persons? It would be like the pro-choice side declaring, “There is a close contest between bodily rights and the right to life of a full-fledged person, in which bodily rights prevail,” and the pro-life side declaring, “There is a close contest between bodily rights and the right to life of a full-fledged person, in which bodily rights don’t quite prevail.” For me personally, though it is clear that the outcome of the contest is on the pro-life side, I wouldn’t call the margin of the outcome (in terms of what should or shouldn’t be legal) a very pronounced one.

Doesn’t it always seem strange that there should be so much polarization on the abortion issue? Understanding those few conversations (such as the imagined one above) that are free from polarization helps illuminate the sources of the polarization that more typically occurs. Polarization stems mainly from widely disparate views of the unborn, so a conversation such as the above is bound to be free from polarization. Therefore there is another corollary of the “somewhat close balance” view of the abortion issue: those few pro-choicers who really see the unborn as our little sisters and brothers will share that “somewhat close” view with the pro-lifers who hold it, and those two groups will not be each other’s hated enemies. Both groups will agree that the issue involves a balance that could understandably tip the other way in the other person’s mind. There will not be the acrimony that is usual between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. They will be able to talk. (If the pro-choicers deprecate the unborn, on the other hand, there will be a big fight.)

© 2017

Appendix

I originally wrote the following version of the first few paragraphs, but replaced it with the above version for the sake of brevity. Some readers might be interested in further details of what led up to Klusendorf’s Even if my answer were inconsistent . . .:

At Wayne State University last November 16, Scott Klusendorf, perhaps the dean of pro-life apologists, ably debated abortion with Nadine Strossen, a former president of the ACLU. Early on, Klusendorf based his pro-life position on this simple syllogism:

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore abortion is wrong.

At 1:07:01 Strossen asks Klusendorf about exceptions: “when it’s necessary to save a woman’s life, when it’s necessary for her health, when she is the victim of rape or incest . . .” Klusendorf gives the example of an ectopic pregnancy threatening the life of a woman and affirms that this would be an exception and that any pro-life physician would agree. Strossen then asks about health exceptions: “if it’s not a matter of literally saving a pregnant woman’s life, but . . . serious adverse health impact . . .” Klusendorf replies in terms of the rarity of such serious cases (serious cases other than ectopic pregnancies). He also points out that Doe v. Bolton had allowed an overly broad health exception; but his answer implies that if Doe had not made things so broad, he would agree to a health exception. Strossen then asks, “What do you define as health [that is, a health condition whose seriousness would reach the threshold at which he would agree to make an exception]?”

At 1:12:01 Klusendorf says, Sure, I’ll answer that. Let me make an observation, though. Even if my answer were inconsistent, it wouldn’t eradicate the syllogism I put forward. . . . So even if I answered this question in a way that seemed inconsistent with my view, it would only show I’m inconsistent. It wouldn’t rule out the evidence I presented.

At that point he again brings up the overly-broad standards and the empirical rarity of serious cases, but Strossen insists on a specific example even if “hypothetically,” and offers “Let’s say she will not lose her life, but she will be rendered infertile. . . . Would that be a situation where you would say the pregnancy could be terminated?” He replies, “In that case the mother stands to lose one good, the child stands to lose an ultimate good” – meaning that impending infertility would not be a sufficient reason to abort. Strossen then moves on to other topics.

 

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

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 Pro-Life Feminist Balance Sheet

 

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

 

A sentence in the next-to-last paragraph reads:

Because even if the legality of abortion is morally neutral and abortion does not psychologically harm women, there is no question that reliance on the practice to solve various problems denigrates women’s femaleness, instead of honoring it and demanding that society accommodate it (remember the point about female functions above) . . .

But as I said in a main comment under the article, “I should have written ‘Because even if keeping abortion legal is not morally wrong and abortion does not psychologically harm women, there is no question that reliance on the practice to attain equality with men denigrates women’s femaleness, instead [etc.].’” The entire comment reads:

I wrote in the article, Because even if the legality of abortion is morally neutral and abortion does not psychologically harm women, there is no question that reliance on the practice to solve various problems denigrates women’s femaleness, instead of honoring it and demanding that society accommodate it (remember the point about female functions above) . . .

I should have written “Because even if keeping abortion legal is not morally wrong and abortion does not psychologically harm women, there is no question that reliance on the practice to attain equality with men denigrates women’s femaleness, instead [etc.].” I was trying to be brief, but I wasn’t very successful in being both brief and clear.

Early in the article I had written: Women will no longer have to live in a society that gives official sanction to the idea “. . . Often, the female sex can become equal to the male only by assaulting a female function . . .” There were a number of reasons that abortion was originally made legal in the US. The stated reason was “privacy,” but that does not mean that that was the actual main reason in the collective inner mind of society – or if it was, the main reasons might have shifted – and I don’t think that in popular belief that is now the main justification for the legality. Justice Ginsburg wrote in Gonzales v. Carhart, quoting from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “[Women's] ability to realize their full potential . . . is intimately connected to ‘their ability to control their reproductive lives.’ Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures . . . center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature…

Ginsburg was talking about equal citizenship stature to be achieved by assaulting the normal bodily functioning of a female who has happened to get pregnant. She was giving official sanction to the idea that that is sometimes the price of equality and thus that women are by nature less than equal. (Which pro-life feminism disputes. Pro-life feminism blames society rather for not accommodating women’s nature.) If in the popular mind the reasons for the legality of abortion were other than such equality – for instance if people believed that it is legal because making it legal is, due to bodily rights or whatever, morally neutral or morally right, then the legality of abortion would not have the effect of denigrating women’s femaleness – but if people believe the reason to be equality, then the message they get from official quarters is that by nature, women are less than equal.

And in a reply to a commenter, I further wrote –

Suppose I had said, “there is no question that if a pregnant person allows her physiology, which scientific consensus calls female and not-male, to function unhindered, the result will be a born baby (or at least is much more likely to be a born baby than if she deliberately hinders the functioning)” — ? I think you would say, okay, there’s no question.

However, am I justified in equating unhindered female functioning with femaleness? Though I might think twice about how I use “femaleness” if I find that word has been used differently by pro-life feminist thinkers, I guess I would define it as “female anatomy/physiology (along with any inborn, hardwired female behavior traits, if there are any) as the ultimate basis of female identity.” Let me explain.

Suppose a person has typical male anatomy and physiology but identifies as female. Okay, so if you ask me the person’s gender identity, I will say “female”. But does that mean that anatomy is completely unrelated to identity, as some might claim? I don’t think so, because the fact that the person identifies as female means there is such a thing as a female. And what defines that concept of “female” that the person is using? It can only be what scientific consensus calls female anatomy and female physiology. Unless “female anatomy/physiology is the ultimate basis of female identity,” then there can be no such thing as feminism, there can be no meaning to “women’s struggle,” “women’s rights,” “Women’s March,” “women’s health.” Or even “equality of men and women.”

So, a few or many females (by identity) may have male anatomy, but still female anatomy/physiology is the ultimate basis of female identity. Take away that basis and female identity will become meaningless

You might be trying to tell me, “If women hinder their physiological functioning, that is not denigrating their female identity, because they don’t identify with their anatomy/physiology.” But they DO identify with it.

I wrote, “there is no question that reliance on the practice to solve various problems denigrates women’s femaleness.” I should have said “certain problems,” or more specifically “problems that jeopardize their equality.” If a woman’s problem is that the unborn has some cosmetic defect, that’s not a good reason to abort, but she is not aborting for the sake of equality with men. But if she aborts in order to compete with men at work,* then the abortion is a statement “If I allow my normal physiological functioning then I’m inferior to men.” An abortion for that reason denigrates her femaleness.

* The Justice Ginsburg justification for legal abortion — see the main comment that I made in this comments section.

Whereas if the woman said, “I’m going to go ahead and deliver the baby, maybe even raise it, and I demand that society reward me for doing that job as much as it rewards the men whom I will now lag behind at the office,” then she’s a pro-life feminist. PL feminists say No, I can have my normal physiological functioning without being inferior to men. But I will be different from men, and society has to accommodate me along with my difference . . .

– and to another commenter I wrote:

. . . The institution of legal abortion, as the article says, entails both benefits and losses for women, and most of those benefits and losses are primarily material, not moral. For instance, if abortion is legal, it will be a little safer — a benefit in terms of the health of aborting women, a material benefit. However, if the institution of legal abortion is morally wrong and if that institution exists, then the whole society becomes to that extent an immoral society and everyone (including women) will be polluted morally by having to live in it. Whereas if the institution of legal abortion is morally right and if that institution DOESN’T exist, then the whole society becomes to that extent an immoral society and everyone (including women) will be polluted morally by having to live in it. So though the article counts up mostly material benefits and losses that stem from making abortion illegal, there will also be a benefit or loss in terms of moral pollution BY THE VERY FACT that abortion is legal or illegal.

Though I think myself that the institution of legal abortion is morally wrong, some think it’s morally right, and I wanted all the benefits and losses to be undebatable, so as you may have understood, I did not (in this particular article) come to any conclusion about its morality.

But I did say that if the institution of legal abortion is not morally wrong, then as an institution (THE VERY FACT that it is legal), it doesn’t come in the “losses” column. But even if the institution of legal abortion is not morally wrong, that institution DOES send the message that femaleness is inferior — that institution denigrates women — which DOES come in the losses column. That’s what the sentence is saying.

That denigration is not exactly a material loss or a loss in terms of moral pollution. It’s an image loss . . .

 

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

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

Should the Pro-Life States Secede from the Union?

I suppose it’s conceivable that Trump will be elected in November and miraculously, within a few years, give us a pro-life Supreme Court while not bringing on the end of civilization in some way. If we are not so lucky, the pro-life cause in the United States seems doomed for another couple of decades at least. It is hard to see how even a nominally pro-life Senate could resist the extreme pro-choice Supreme Court picks to be expected of a President Clinton. We will see, if not the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act, then the equivalent by judicial fiat, sweeping away the best efforts that can be made at the state level.

The pro-life cause in the United States may be doomed. But is the United States our only option?

The first time I floated the idea that the pro-life states might peacefully secede from the Union, the response was an expression of doubt that for the pro-life states to do so would actually save lives. And in the short run, considering that the legal-abortion states would not be far away from the pro-life states, and that travel would probably be easy, and that laws only deter a certain percentage of abortions even where they are in effect, secession might not save many lives.

But I don’t think of secession first and foremost in terms of lives saved in the short run. I think it all starts with a question of moral integrity. If Kansans, for example, are pro-life and are free to live, if they wish, under laws that protect unborn life, and opt not to do so, how much of their moral integrity on that issue can they preserve, and what message do they send to others?

I ask myself, if the Hyde Amendment is repealed and tax money starts flowing for abortions, will pro-lifers dutifully line up and pay their taxes?

But at this point, let’s get real and admit that presently there would be nowhere near enough popular support for the pro-life states to actually secede. Surveys show that there are not a great many single-issue voters on the abortion issue, and it is doubtful that even a majority of those single-issue voters are ardent enough to let go of their loyalty to the United States, even if that loyalty is no longer deserved; to embrace the security and economic uncertainties of such a move; to embrace possible complications in traveling to see friends and relatives; and to embrace the unknown in general.

What I would really propose, though, is to start a long-term movement, aimed at eventual secession, right now. (Or in November.) The original feminists did not live to see women’s suffrage in the United States, but suffrage would not have been won had someone not taken the first step. As pro-lifers we often tell ourselves that the real war over life is not a political war, but a cultural war. Yet how can a cultural war be won if the warriors do not walk their talk and put their politics where their professed values are? It is a question of moral integrity, and moral integrity shows. By showing just how serious we are within a peaceful framework, an ardent secessionist movement will be a jolt to everyone’s minds that will help us to win the cultural war in all states. This will be particularly so if secularists are prominent, visibly so, in the leadership of the movement. It will be important also that African-Americans are prominent among the leadership, so that this present secession movement cannot be painted with the brush of the secession in 1861.

There is no need to mention the importance of leadership by women, since women are already leading the pro-life movement.

A dynamic secessionist movement with visible secular leadership will force pro-choicers to ask, many of them for the first time, why these people are so passionate. The national discourse will for the first time attain the intense focus on a philosophical question – “What is the nature of the unborn?” – without which a decisive shift, for the better, in the balance of the cultural war will never be possible. A secessionist movement will be the evidence, that is now lacking, that we are serious in our assertions that abortion is a serious wrong.

If such a movement succeeds in creating a Pro-Life States of America, well and good. And if before that happens, it succeeds in jolting the United States enough, bringing people to their senses enough, to form an effective pro-life majority (“effective” meaning reflected in the Supreme Court and all branches of government), so much the better.

With modern communications ideas travel faster than they used to, and unlike the first feminists, some of us who take this initiative may actually live to see a culture of life and the consequent legal concern for life, whether within the political framework of a new country or of the one we have known.

The pro-life cause in the US has somehow come to be called “conservative,” despite its seemingly greater affinity, as pointed out by Charles Camosy and others, with some values that the Democratic Party champions or once championed. And the fact is that the pro-life states are conservative in many ways. I personally see this as a downside to secession. In particular, I think that governments, as representatives of our human family, should help pregnant women, mothers, and children without waiting for the market and the private sector to do it (which I think would be the approach of most conservatives). I oppose the death penalty, which many conservatives support. If I had to label myself in terms of political and economic thinking with just one conventional word, the word would be “socialist.” So I do not advance the idea of a Pro-Life States of America, and the free hand it might give to conservatives in those states on other issues, without trepidation. But in balance I would be ready to try it and face what might come in that regard.

So should we at least start a movement for secession? If Trump is elected (no thanks to us) in November, and if the world survives, let’s wait a bit and see. If Clinton is elected, let’s start a movement immediately.

Though I have lived most of my adult life in India, some of my ancestors came to America from Britain long before 1776, and I recognize the contributions that the United States as a country has made. I wouldn’t take lightly the fragmentation of that remarkable country. But nothing lasts forever. National states should serve their citizens, and not vice versa. If pro-lifers have the will, they can have a country that represents their values. The unborn can have a country where they belong, and which does not throw them under the bus. If things don’t, somehow, immediately start getting better in November, let’s strike a blow for the most victimized members our human family, and for our own psychological and moral health, and draw a real breath of fresh air.

© 2016

 

Should the Pro-Life States Secede from the Union? can be shared on Facebook here, and retweeted on Twitter here.

 

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

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

Can a Pro-Lifer Be Both Open-Minded and Confident?

Can a pro-lifer be both open-minded and confident?

If only because it’s hard to prove a negative, one can never be completely confident that there is not some evidence out there somewhere that would lead one to become pro-choice.

And the less familiar a pro-lifer is with the literature on the abortion issue — Boonin, Beckwith, Kaczor, etc. — the less reason that person would have to be confident in that way. A person who has read everything and has ended up with strong pro-life convictions, may perhaps feel that it is only in theory that he might encounter a new pro-choice argument that he will not be able to defeat, or some new scientific or statistical evidence that might change everything for him. But we can safely guess that most pro-lifers have never read a book on the subject. How can someone who has never read Boonin feel confident that nothing he might read in Boonin, if he reads open-mindedly, might overturn his pro-life views?

So I think that the only way a pro-lifer can be both open-minded and confident is if he has a plan B for how he will operate if the evidence leads him to be pro-choice.

By such a plan B, I don’t necessarily mean a rehearsed speech that he will use to explain to his friends how he had made a mistake. I just mean that he must have confidence that life will still be worth living even if he changes his most cherished opinions. And in fact life should still be worth living if not even more worth living than it was before, because presumably he will change from an old opinion only to a new opinion that carries more truth.

In other words, a pro-lifer can be open-minded and confident if he is confident in always progressing toward more and more truth, but not if he is confident in remaining always pro-life.

I think it is extremely unlikely that the evidence will ever lead me to become pro-choice, by the way. My point is just that being really open-minded can only mean being ready to change any opinion at all.

© 2016

 

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

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