Pro-Life: Expressing the Highest Ideals of the Left

 

Courtesy of Life Matters Journal. The first installment of this essay was first published, with illustrations, in Life Matters Journal Volume 5 Issue 8 — October 2017.

 

Thanks to Val for a lot of research, and for the good feedback on the writing.

1. What Happened to Liberals’ Hearts?

“How had I agreed to make this hideous act the centerpiece of my feminism?,” Frederica Mathewes-Green asked in 2016. Just a little later that year, pro-choice advocate Camille Paglia wrote, “Progressives need to do some soul-searching. . . . A liberal credo that is variously anti-war, anti-fur, vegan, and committed to environmental protection of endangered species . . . should not be so stridently withholding its imagination and compassion from the unborn.” Conservatives have sometimes derided the left as “bleeding-heart liberals,” but what happened to liberals’ hearts regarding the unborn?

Explaining the shifting positions of liberals on abortion seems to be a tale of oppression, altruism, and – in the case of many liberal leaders – opportunism.

The oppression I refer to is the horrific oppression of women for millennia, which naturally led to a backlash that was overdue and highly justifiable for the most part, but that in at least one important way—attitudes toward abortion—went out of control. Altruism, or compassion, is a character trait that is stronger in some people than in others; and even between people of equal compassion, some have more tendency than others to try to translate that compassion into governmental responsibility. That tendency leads people to gravitate toward liberal politics. Altruism can be directed both toward pregnant women and their unborn children, but liberals tend to direct it disproportionately toward pregnant women for reasons I will explain below. And opportunism? The opportunism of some pro-choice politicians and other leaders is related primarily to the out-of-control aspect of the backlash and secondarily to money.

Jon Haidt, who researches in moral psychology, likes to list six possible dichotomies that various thinkers have argued about in trying to ground a secular morality. He says that liberals try to ground right and wrong overwhelmingly on the foundation of care/harm, whereas conservatives appeal also to the foundation of liberty/oppression and four other foundations. Whether or not liberals are naturally endowed with any more compassion than conservatives, I think they are much more inclined to try to translate their compassion into governmental responsibility.

In the history of liberal politics, the forces of oppression, altruism, and opportunism played themselves out against the backdrop of what I see as the main psychological source of the divide between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. That sharp divide seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn. Are the unborn full-fledged members of our human family, or are they something much less significant? A greater liberal emphasis on caring for the underdog would seem clearly to lead to a pro-life position if liberals see the unborn as full-fledged members of our human family. If, however, they see them as something much less, then understandably their caring would focus instead on pregnant women, they would see no need to pay any regard to the unborn, and they would become pro-choice. I personally am strongly pro-life, but if I were to perceive the unborn as insignificant, I would find it abhorrent to try to restrict what a woman can do with her body.

“The sharp divide seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn” is my own conclusion based on countless discussions about abortion with a range of people. And following from that conclusion, I naturally think that in general, the two-thirds (or so) of rank-and-file Democrats who identify as pro-choice must think of the unborn as something fairly insignificant.

When I say that the sharp divide “seems to stem mainly from differing perceptions of the unborn,” some may ask, what about bodily-rights arguments, which concede for the sake of argument that the unborn is indeed fully human, yet claim 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 to entail a pro-life position. Viewing the ranks of pro-choice apologists, I get the impression 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 Camille Paglia, mentioned above, and Naomi Wolf – 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 bodily-rights arguments.

Charles Camosy, relying significantly on the writings of Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life of America, relates an historical account[1] that I would summarize as follows:

As of the 1968 general elections, neither major party could be called pro-life or pro-choice. Events at the 1968 Democratic Convention led to activist groups of different kinds, in the aftermath of that convention, gaining more control than they had had before over party policies; and pro-choice activists succeeded in initiating their party’s tilt toward the pro-choice position.

This created an irresistible opportunity for the Republican Party to appeal to pro-lifers (just as if the Republican Party had been the first to tilt either way, it would have created an irresistible opportunity for the Democratic Party to appeal to the voters opposite to the tilt). And things have continued to polarize ever since. For his 1972 re-election, Republican President Richard Nixon used pro-life sentiment to successfully begin attracting Catholics away from the Democratic Party.

“In 1976,” according to Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, “the pro-life movement was still overwhelmingly Catholic and mostly politically liberal . . . but by 1980, there was a new group of pro-life activists: evangelical Protestants [overwhelmingly Republican].” But as we will see, the biggest spike in liberal conversions from pro-life to pro-choice – which is our focus in pondering what happened to liberals’ hearts – seems already to have occurred in the 1968-1972 period.

Ideologically, the pro-choice movement might have found more affinity with the Republican Party than with the Democratic. A key factor, possibly the key factor, in the way things fell out seems to have been that the pro-choice activists, as activists with a new party policy to propose, simply found the Democratic power structure easier to break into. I won’t insist on this view, but it’s consistent with the contributions of Democrats to the pro-life movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which indicate that as of 1972 the Democratic Party had not long been pro-choice in ideological terms.

In fact the pro-life movement that opposed the late-1960s calls for abortion rights (calls that foreshadowed Roe v. Wade) was led importantly by stalwarts of the civil-rights movement and of the anti-Vietnam War movement, and by liberal politicians. Jesse Jackson was both a civil-rights leader and a politician, and was at first vehemently pro-life. The priests Daniel Berrigan and John Neuhaus were co-founders of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam; both were pro-life, and Neuhaus was the keynote speaker at the first pro-life rally to be held on the National Mall. Edward Kennedy wrote an open letter in 1971 opposing abortion on demand. Williams finds even more significant the fact that the pro-life movement used the same ideological framework and language of human rights as those earlier movements.

As Democratic Party policies shifted in favor of abortion rights, liberal politicians shifted with them. Nat Hentoff wrote of Jesse Jackson: “But as Jesse Jackson decided to run for president in 1984, his fiery pro-life rhetoric suddenly subsided.” Hentoff didn’t expressly accuse Jackson of hypocrisy, but he concluded his article as follows:

I then asked Jackson about another form of execution. I told him that in speeches I often quote what he wrote as a pro-lifer. He looked uncomfortable. I asked him if he still believed what he said then. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he said. He hasn’t yet.

The opinion of Nat Hentoff, alone, is not enough to convince me that any individual politician is a hypocrite. We can’t know, simply through the images we find in the media, what is in any one person’s heart. But I can see how politics would have a special appeal for those whose ambition overrides their integrity, so I feel sure that in the cases of many politicians, if not in Jackson’s case individually, the conversions to a pro-choice position of Democratic leaders must have been opportunistic. Outside of elected office, also, any movement that offers a chance to become a hero to a large, vocal group or to cash in financially is sure to attract some who have such banal motivations (this would not exclude the pro-life side). The appeal of pro-choice feminists as a huge and motivated voting bloc or audience would have been hard to resist.

While opportunism might explain the shifting positions of Democratic leaders, however, rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party would not have felt the same compulsions of allegiance that politicians did, and it seems that many of the rank and file also must have undergone a conversion to pro-choice. The Washington Post of Aug. 25, 1972, reported that when Gallup asked whether “the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician,” 59% of Democrats agreed (among Republicans agreement was at 68%), and that “support for legal abortion ha[d] increased sharply” since the previous survey five months earlier. The report did not explicitly say that Democratic (liberal) support had increased since the previous survey, and I could not find earlier surveys asking exactly the same question or giving a breakdown by party. A Gallup poll in November 1969, however, had found only 40 per cent of all Americans in favor of a law “which would permit a woman to go to a doctor and end a pregnancy at any time during the first three months.” Such a huge number of pro-choice converts must have included many who would call themselves liberal.

Let’s try to find the inner reasons why people might have been converting to pro-choice during the years 1968–1972. First, few people would have been converting due to bodily-autonomy arguments. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” was not published until 1971, and it takes time for academic thinking to trickle down and affect popular opinion. I believe that pro-choice arguments leading up to Roe v. Wade were largely arguments about women’s attaining career equality with men; about controlling population growth; about the fear that if a woman does not have access to a safe abortion she will seek out an unsafe one (the “back-alley abortion” argument); and, for seven Supreme Court justices, about a rarefied argument concerning privacy under the Constitution. Moreover, some people may have come to take the abortion-rights movement more seriously as women took over the leadership that had previously been held by men.

But few people would say that anyone should have the right to kill a full-fledged member of our human family for a job, or to control population, or so that killings of such persons can be carried out in safety, or to protect the privacy of the killer, or because of who recommends that right. Thus the above arguments would not fully explain how Mathewes-Green’s “hideous act” became a cornerstone of liberal politics. I wrote before, “if liberals . . . see [the unborn] as something much less [than full-fledged members of our human family], then understandably their caring would focus instead on pregnant women, they would see no need to pay any regard to the unborn, and they would become pro-choice.” For this reason, I think that many liberals around the 1968–1972 period must have actually found in themselves different intuitive perceptions of the unborn than they had held before.

Would that have been psychologically possible? Well, I get the impression that with people who have not thought much, in an individual capacity, about the nature of the unborn, their perceptions are extremely malleable. After all, except for a few surgeons, no one has ever seen an in utero fetus with their own eyes, and even if we saw an early fetus, that would not help us much to assess its moral value without some deep thinking. So if those who have not thought much about the topic are told repeatedly that the unborn has a soul, they will believe it has a soul. If told in secular terms that it is “a distinct, living and whole human being,” they will believe that. If told it is just tissue, they will believe that. I think that the last of those is what happened to liberals’ hearts – or perhaps not exactly to their hearts but to something in their minds closely related to their hearts.

The above arguments for abortion rights gave people incentives to find in themselves different perceptions of the unborn that led in the direction of dismissiveness. These arguments also gave incentives for the crystallization of a dismissive perception of the unborn where there had been no clear perception before. I think that psychologically such changes would in fact have been possible given two factors that were then present: first, the fact that many people were just beginning to think about the matter for the first time; and second, what seems to have been a concerted effort at dehumanization by pro-choice feminists. People’s still-formative perceptions were influenced in the direction of dismissing the unborn.

Pro-choice advocate Naomi Wolf has explained that “Many pro-choice advocates developed a language to assert that the foetus isn’t a person. . . . An account of a pre-Roe underground abortion service inadvertently sheds light on this: staffers referred to the foetus – well into the fourth month – as ‘material’ . . .”

That would be consistent with the picture that we get from Daniel Williams. Williams relates that in 1967 the National Organization for Women decided to demand women’s full control over their bodies, and that their adherents undertook to justify that control by claiming that the unborn were less than human. (I assume that they chose that course because they then had no other means of justification; Thomson-style arguments that claim to establish such a right to bodily control even if the unborn are fully human were not yet available to them.) Their adherents proceeded to develop what Wolf calls “a lexicon of dehumanization.”

I don’t think that a spike in conversions to pro-choice between 1969 and 1972 following upon an apparent intensification of the push for dehumanization in 1967 was just a coincidence.

In a 1980 article in The Progressive, “Abortion: The Left Has Betrayed the Sanctity of Life,” Mary Meehan wrote:

…it is out of character for the Left to neglect the weak and helpless.

The traditional mark of the Left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak, and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient… The basic instinct of the Left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves – and that instinct is absolutely sound.

As we saw earlier, liberals are, if not the voters who care most, then those who try hardest to translate their caring into governmental responsibility. So Meehan is of course right that liberals should be pro-life – if the unborn are perceived as full-fledged members of our human family. If they are perceived as something much less, the contention would not be true. But I have discussed elsewhere why I am confident that the former perception will prevail.

2. The Highest Ideals of the Left

I would call myself a member of the left, if we have to use such simple concepts. I volunteered with the Delta Ministry briefly in Mississippi in the summer of 1965. I was evicted by police from a university building in 1969 in an anti-Vietnam War protest led by Students for a Democratic Society. A few days later I marched to free Huey Newton, defense minister of the Black Panther Party (though I soon came to realize I had little knowledge of whether he was innocent of the charges). I support universal health care, as long as it is real health care and not abortion or other forms of killing. I think that eventually most industry should be owned by cooperatives or by governments.

To explain my view on abortion in relation to the ideals of the left, let me go back to that 1969 Vietnam protest, with the understanding that I don’t want to start an argument about that war. I have much humility about my understanding of history and geopolitics. I have great respect for American Vietnam veterans. All that matters here is what my perception of the war was at the time I protested it. What motivated me to join that action in 1969 and other anti-war events was a sense of outrage at what I perceived as a devastatingly violent onslaught being perpetrated by the strong against the weak, in another part of the world. Entirely innocent and entirely defenseless sisters and brothers of mine in Vietnam seemed to account for untold numbers of the slaughtered, while those who seemed to me the worst aggressors operated with complete impunity.

Abortion, if we don’t euphemize, is a devastatingly violent onslaught by the strong and relatively strong against the very weakest and most innocent of our sisters and brothers, all over the world. Legal abortion is not the moral equivalent of imperialistic aggression (if the Vietnam war really was imperialistic aggression, as I saw it then), but it is by definition slaughter of the innocent and defenseless with impunity, and the numbers of victims are on a scale that cannot be compared with the relatively modest numbers of victims in mere military wars. Abortion is one more human manifestation of might makes right, and it awakens in me much of the same sense of injustice and outrage as did Vietnam. Not only do present laws (which call for a unilateral decision) mandate might makes right, natural circumstances are also conducive to might makes right, because a woman and a doctor alone have the physical capacity to carry out the abortion. I think that if the balance of might were different and therefore state power were required to carry out the death sentence, the unborn would get a much more equitable hearing (a day in court), and therefore many outcomes would be different. The ease of abortion obviates the deeper and more soul-searching assessment of the justice of the situation that would occur if the intended target were someone who could resist. Thus those already born are flatly taking advantage of the helplessness of those not yet born.

I think that the impulse to defend the weak is one of the highest human impulses. Defense of the weak is normally undertaken without thought of personal gain and hence with minimal thought of self. It is altruistic. And as a species, we have gradually been learning that happiness for an individual involves identification with something greater than oneself. 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.

Atheism advocate and neuroscientist Sam Harris recommends and teaches meditation. Meditation is a technique other than altruistic conduct through which one can lose one’s sense of self. Harris says that through meditative exercises, “[Certain] people have lost their feeling of self, to a great degree, and with that loss [have] come incredibly positive experiences.” He suggests that there is “a connection between self-transcendence and living ethically,” because self-transcendent experiences can involve “forms of mental pleasure that are intrinsically ethical. . . a phrase like ‘boundless love” does not seem overblown.”[2] (See also “Sonder: The Key to Peace?” The word “sonder” has been coined for a state of mind out of which consistent affirmation of life in all one’s actions must inevitably flow.)

The loss of the sense of self, however it is achieved, will have some of the same effect for ethical living that Harris claims for meditation.

Harris and most other scientists are confident that such mental states must have an adequate neurological explanation and do not require the religious explanations formerly ascribed to them. Whatever explanation for them may eventually be found, I think of states of transcendence, self-sacrifice and universal love as the highest good that human beings can aspire to. And I think that whatever may be the failings of liberal politics, the liberal principle of defending the weak is the one principle, not only on the left, but anywhere on the political spectrum, that is most conducive to going beyond our normal pettiness and our ordinary boundaries.

Some voices will say that while the unborn are indeed weak and defenseless, they are not human beings, or not persons, and are not deserving of our compassion. But I think those voices have been sufficiently dealt with elsewhere. However great the tragedy of the abortion issue, it is a transformative opportunity for society.

We need to be clear: The quality of a civilization can be measured by the respect it has for its weakest members. (Jerome Lejeune, “the father of modern genetics”)

 

[1] Charles C. Camosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), hardcover, pp. 22-24.

[2] Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), p. 14.

 

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

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

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 (which in the case of human beings usually includes a chance to improve morally). 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

The Ghost in the Garbage Can

 

Courtesy of Life Matters Journal. This poem was published, with an illustration, in Volume 4 Issue 3 — February 2016.

 

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

Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument

 

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.

Continue reading

Personhood

If we are to pinpoint the moment of beginning of personhood that has the best scientific grounding, out of all the moments that are candidates, that will certainly be the beginning of the single-cell stage. A minute before, there were two spatially-separated haploid cells, each with insufficient genetic information ever to become anything resembing a full-grown person; a minute after, there is a single definable organism with the exact genetic information that it will carry throughout life, at 1 month of gestation, at 4 years, at 60 years.

Here Dr. Maureen L. Condic writes:

Structures capable of new functions are formed throughout embryogenesis. For example, grasping becomes possible once hands have formed. But the fundamental process of development proceeds continuously, both prior to and after hand formation, and the onset of this function reflects an ongoing developmental process. Given the continuous nature of development, to argue that embryos and fetuses become humans once some anatomical or functional landmark such as “consciousness” has been achieved is to assert some kind of magical transformation; i.e., that at some ill-defined point, a non-human entity spontaneously transmogrifies into a human being, without any change whatsoever in its behavior, its molecular composition, or any other observable feature.

I reject this argument. For something actually to transform into a different kind of thing, a change must take place in its composition or in its pattern of biological activity. For example, sperm and egg are two specific human cell types that fuse to produce a distinct cell (the zygote) with unique molecular composition and with a pattern of organismal behavior that is distinct from the behavior of either sperm or egg. A clear, non-magical, scientifically observable transformation from one kind of entity (two human cells) to another kind of entity (a distinct human organism) has occurred. . . .

Building the complex architecture of the brain is a continuous process that is initiated at sperm-egg fusion and proceeds through orderly steps under the direction of a ‘builder,’ that is, a human organism that is present from the beginning. The presence of an agent capable of constructing the mature body, including the brain, is the only sustainable definition of a human being. This agency should not be misconstrued as some kind of mystical or spiritual element that is merely attributed to an embryo or fetus based on personal or religious belief. The fact that the embryo acts as an agent is entirely a matter of empirical observation; embryos construct themselves. . . .

. . . science does not dictate that citizens have a right to equal protection under the law, but. . . . science has clearly determined when human life commences, and this determination legitimately dictates that equal protection under the law must extend to human beings at embryonic and fetal stages of development.

For more scientific sources attesting to the personhood of the zygote, see Appendix 1.

Though the beginning of the single-cell stage has the best scientific grounding among all the moments that are candidates for the beginning of personhood, some will debate against defining “personhood” in this way. And “personhood” or “person” is not the only word that can be debated. While some will maintain that a zygote is “a human being, but not a person,” others, since they can’t deny that it belongs to the species Homo sapiens, will insist, with an equally straight face, that it is “human, but not a human being.”
Continue reading

Personhood and Citizenship

(This post, first published August 1, 2013, is an explanation of why there should be no termination without representation.)

The unborn babies of the world today, January 7, 2015, are living their lives just as you and I were living our lives a short time ago, and as each of us may, in the view of many, soon be living our lives again. What you are today is you as you are today, and what you were not long ago was the same you, as the unborn baby that you were then. An unborn baby is a typical person, operating as one would expect a typical person to operate at its age. It should be considered a citizen of its respective nation or nations, or a citizen of the world, with the rights of a citizen. The era in which we treated the unborn, legally and otherwise, as second-class and “other,” will in future be seen like the dark ages.

One can define personhood, or define anything, in any way one likes. But to view any object of the universe, not to mention an unborn child, with disregard of its potential, would be a very reductive and disconnected way of seeing reality. Full human potential exists at the zygote stage.

And yet, an unborn baby is “a citizen who complicates the life of another citizen.” Let’s look at an example of what this means: Continue reading