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

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

“Pro-Lifers Don’t Really Believe That Zygotes Are Persons”

A New Yorker review, summarizing a key argument of Katha Pollitt’s 2014 Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, proclaimed that “No person actually imagines that a zygote is a person.” (Meaning that certainly the pro-lifers who say that it is don’t actually imagine that.) The recent Newsweek article “America’s Abortion Wars (and How to End Them)” came to the same conclusion. A 2007 article by a law professor focused on pro-lifers who make an exception for rape; the logic offered in the article leads to the conclusion that some such pro-lifers (though not all) “take the position that abortion kills an entity that is something less than a full person. The earlier in pregnancy an abortion occurs, the greater the appeal of this position for many.” Under a Huffington Post article, the commenter CourtDecisions once told me that according to his legal knowledge, “. . . the advocates of fetal personhood don’t really believe in fetal personhood.”

While there is another segment of pro-choicers who go to the opposite extreme and claim that pro-lifers are a religious cult who worship fetuses, the above voices represent probably the bigger and more serious group, and advance a sometimes thought-provoking case. They usually adduce two kinds of evidence for their claim:

1. They say that pro-lifers’ actual public-policy recommendations, and pro-lifers’ claims about personhood, are deeply inconsistent.

After “No person actually imagines that a zygote is a person,” the New Yorker review goes on:

If they did, they would actually equate murder and abortion, and their conduct – only the tiniest fringe is willing to advertise comparable penalties for both – shows that they know perfectly well that they aren’t the same. . . . One would have to oppose capital punishment. . . . One would find it difficult to support any war or military action at all.

Meanwhile, the law professor opens her reasoning with the observation that pro-lifers who would allow the abortion of an unborn child of rape, would not allow the infanticide of a born child of rape. She then proceeds to eliminate some of what might appear to be explanations for this distinction, and at the end we find that out of all the possibilities of explanation she has provided, the explanation in the case of some such pro-lifers must be the view that the unborn is less than a full person. CourtDecisions wrote that “even the advocates of fetal personhood believe that abortion should be legal for rape, incest and fetal abnormalities. Consequently, the advocates of fetal personhood don’t really believe in fetal personhood.”

(The New Yorker and the law professor then proceed to think up reasons why pro-lifers may actually oppose abortion: “religious dogma,” “misogyny,” “intercourse as a sin.”)

I would agree that pro-lifers who would allow abortion for incest or fetal abnormalities, unless they would also allow euthanasia or eugenic killing of born children, don’t really believe that the unborn are persons. But the argument against those pro-lifers fails against pro-lifers who do not support those exceptions, and some of the other arguments also fail against a particular group of those who don’t: they fail against the group of pro-lifers who support a consistent life ethic.

The argument about a rape exception, however, seems more challenging, at first sight, for those pro-lifers who happen to advocate that exception, and the “comparable penalties” argument is challenging for most pro-lifers.

At this point let me mention that I am only personally acquainted with a small number of active pro-lifers and not with hundreds or thousands, and I would not be surprised if there are some pro-lifers who genuinely do not perceive zygotes as equivalent in moral value to born persons. And I would not be surprised if out of those who do not, there are a few who claim that they do. But that is not the point. I don’t think that moral truth is always determined democratically. What I will aim to do here is to represent the views of very thoughtful pro-lifers, as I understand them.

I think that most such pro-lifers do not want to give twenty-year prison sentences to women who abort – if they would even award such sentences to all abortionists without exception. Let’s look now at that “inconsistency” in awarding penalties. I think there are four factors at work, any one of which explains that “inconsistency” better than does the idea that pro-lifers secretly devalue the unborn:

First, I think that many pro-lifers, particularly those who have arrived at their own pro-life thinking only through a process of study and reflection over a period of years, can understand that the humanity of the unborn may not be immediately obvious to all; moreover, they give due credit to the efficacious campaign of dehumanization of the unborn that has gone on, in the US and some other cultures, for the last fifty years. Author and abortion-rights advocate Naomi Wolf admitted 20 years ago that “Many pro-choice advocates developed a language to assert that the fetus isn’t a person, and this, over the years has developed into a lexicon of dehumanization. . . . service staffers referred to the fetus . . . as ‘material’ (as in ‘the amount of material that had to be removed…’)” Unmentioned by Wolf, but perhaps still more effective in dehumanizing or simply erasing the unborn, were cunning bits of verbal engineering that assured women that only one “body,” theirs, was involved in any abortion. I think that often pro-lifers feel that many pregnant women simply do not know, or have been misled not to know, what it is that they are aborting. Pro-lifers do not demand harsh treatment for that reason. (This obviousness-of-humanity factor is also discussed, along with some possible factors that I will not touch on here, by Christopher Kaczor in his article “Equal Rights, Unequal Wrongs,” and was the subject of a Secular Pro-Life blog post not long ago.)

Second, it may more often be hard to determine that an abortion was not medically necessary than to determine that the killing of a born person was not self-defense. Abortion cases may more often be foggy in an evidentiary way, resulting in a cautious approach toward the prosecution of all abortion cases in general.

Third, when a crime of any kind is very common, prosecuting all cases might overwhelm the courts. An alternative might be to make examples by prosecuting only the “big fish” – in this case the abortionists.

Fourth and perhaps most importantly, 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 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 has a 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 does not have that 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 – and when her pregnancy is not expected to be unusually rough or dangerous. And the responsibility is all the greater if she became pregnant through consensual sex.

But the belief in a default principle of bodily rights has two important consequences:

a. Many pro-lifers, given that default belief, may feel that a woman does retain the right to refuse the use of her body if serious health consequences are expected for her – even though her situation is not life-threatening. Most pro-lifers might say that even in such a situation she should not abort, but many would feel that she has the right to do so. So many may be ready to permit abortion for the sake of the woman’s health, even at the cost of the baby’s life.

Does this mean that they deem the unborn to be less human than the woman? Not at all. Remember that the default principle is simply: anyone has a right to refuse to let their body be used. That one can lose that right under any circumstances at all (such as a pregnancy that is expected to be relatively smooth) testifies to the fact that the unborn is considered fully human. But even though the unborn is fully human, the woman’s bodily rights mean that she retains a right to refuse to let her body undergo truly dire kinds of suffering.

b. It is similar regarding the prosecution of abortion cases as something less than murder. Abortion is less than murder not because the victim is not fully human, but because everyone has bodily rights such that in many circumstances, one would have a right to kill in order to defend their body. We could almost say that by default, one does have a right to kill to prevent the unconsented use of one’s body. I have written elsewhere, and others also have written elsewhere, on why there should be no such right in the case of a normal pregnancy, but the point here is that there almost is such a right. Abortion is not extremely far removed from such self-defense. For a woman, the offense of abortion, once abortion is illegal, will be the offense of not letting her default right to kill be offset by other considerations present in a pregnancy. That offense may not even be defined as a crime; and if it is so defined, it will not be murder. Even what the abortionist himself does may or may not be murder, because the abortionist can be seen as simply assisting the woman in an excessive assertion of her bodily rights.

According to the moral intuitions of many pro-lifers, in the case of pregnancy the value of a human life (the child’s) does override what would normally be the woman’s bodily rights, and therefore abortion should be illegal. But if a pregnant woman violates the law and claims what would normally be her bodily rights, it is, though a defiance of the law, something considerably less than murder.

(And the more so if the pregnancy resulted from rape. The law professor I have quoted actually mooted bodily rights as a possible explanation for why a pro-lifer might make a rape exception in spite of considering the unborn as a person, but rejected that explanation – too hastily, I think.)

And if a woman is sorely tempted to ease the anxieties of her own brain with alcohol at a time when she happens to have a child inside her, that is not morally the same as plying her newborn with alcohol without any similar temptation – though the results for the child may be the same.

Few pro-lifers would say that the validity of the pro-life position is an open-and-shut case. I think most feel that it involves a balancing of different values in which the balance does not fall overwhelmingly on the pro-life side, though it falls clearly enough.

2. They claim that thought experiments reveal that pro-lifers do not highly value the early unborn.

The Newsweek article, which contained numerous bad arguments, also contained this thought experiment:

A building is on fire. On one floor, five healthy babies are in cribs. On another, 10,000 embryos are in petri dishes, being grown for 10,000 women who want them implanted (new scientific advances guarantee that all the embryos will survive until birth). Because of the rapidly advancing flames, you have time to evacuate only one floor: Either five babies will die or 10,000 future humans will be destroyed. Which do you choose?

Hopefully, the answer is obvious – anyone who decides to rescue globs of cells over living, breathing babies is a monster. But this hypothetical exposes the absurdity of the claim that women who choose abortion are “murdering” babies or that a human being pops into existence at conception, even though a zygote or embryo is no more sentient than a sperm.

The author clearly does “hope” that the answer is obvious, but also clearly understands that there may be those to whom it might not be obvious, and thinks he’d better ensure the obviousness. He proceeds to pull out the stops with pejoratives for the poor embryos, and hyperbolic insults for the poor reader who might see things differently than he does. Should all that fail, at the end he reminds us of the old sentience argument.

One reason the author is right to brace himself for disagreement is that his thought experiment has stacked the deck: despite the concession that all the embryos would survive until birth, he has selected a means of death that will be painful to the born babies and not to the embryos; and we are likely to imagine that some adults have already bonded with the born babies, unlike with the embryos.

But what if we leveled the playing field, so that the born babies as well as the embryos would die in some painless way, and so that none of the sadness that we might feel in either case comes from any personal bonds that have become strong over time?

First let me say that for myself, though I might conceivably save the five babies if I had no time to think, I would definitely save the embryos if I had time to think – and the number would not have to be 10,000. For me the ratio could be very close to 1:1. And the importance of the time factor to my behavior indicates an element that the thought experiment depends on for whatever degree of success it may have with different people: the element of emotion.

It seems that we are biologically programmed to see babies and small children as cute and to feel protective toward them, and to feel emotional when they are threatened. I would guess we are also biologically programmed to feel protective toward a woman who is obviously pregnant – to feel protective, that is, toward anyone who seems to need protection, but more so toward a pregnant woman. Maybe we do not automatically feel equally protective when a woman shows us the results of a very recent pregnancy test, but then how could we be programmed in such a way? Our biological programming took place on the savannahs of Africa at a time when we lacked pregnancy tests, microscopes, and ultrasounds. Such programming would require cues (such as the cuteness of a born baby or the obvious bump of a developed unborn baby), while for embryos and zygotes there simply would not in those days have been any cues. Moreover, nature may have seen less need for such programming than in the case of the born, because for the unborn, the mother’s body was present as the first line of defense – unlike for born babies whom the mother or father might not tend at every moment.

But as Javier Cuadros has written:

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. . . . 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 . . .

The Newsweek author wrote that “anyone who decides to rescue [embryos] is a monster.” If he had written, before 1492, “anyone who decides to go east by sailing west is an idiot,” it would have struck a chord with the people of that time. But in a century of frequent flyers, not only does it seems to us truthful that we can do just that, it seems to us so in a way that is reflexive and completely natural.

Some of us pro-lifers have been thinking about embryos and embryology for a long time, and I suspect that the Newsweek author has not. Though it did not happen in my thinking overnight, to me a human life seems like one seamless process that has to start somewhere. I no longer feel surprised to think that it may have to start small. If we set aside the possibility of feeling pain or fear, and set aside the memories about a child that may have formed in the minds of others who have bonded with it, then from my perspective, anyone who can see a big difference between the death of a 4-year-old and the death of someone who will be a 4-year-old soon enough, simply hasn’t thought about it or otherwise lacks vision in the matter.

(With some effort, I can see how someone could develop the idea that if there has never been any sense of self, then nothing can be lost to any individual. But neuroscience tells us that the self is an illusion anyway. So what actually counts is a bundle of independent pains and pleasures, fears and hopes, that has an illusion of self seemingly tying it all together. What counts is whether such a bundle that would have existed is lost. Whether or not a particular illusion has occurred is not something that can count.)

Above I have responded to the two main arguments that I have seen for the claim “Pro-lifers don’t really believe . . .” But there is another argument as well that deserves to be looked at.

3. Some point out that pro-lifers are not doing all that they could do to save zygotes from natural death.

In a blog post called “No 5k for the biggest killer – so does anyone really believe it’s a killer?,” Fred Clark quotes from a book called Broken Words

. . . between 50 percent and 75 percent of embryos fail to implant in the uterus. . . . Surely, a moral response to a pandemic of this magnitude would be to rally the scientific community to devote the vast majority of its efforts to better understanding why this happens and trying to stop it. Yet the same pro-life leaders who declare that every embryo is morally equivalent to a fully developed child have done nothing to advocate such research. … One could say that this massive loss of human life is natural, and therefore, humans are under no obligation to end it. But it is not clear why the same argument could not be used to justify complacency in the face of AIDS, cancer, heart disease, and other natural causes of human death

– and then comments:

That suggests one of two things. Either these pro-life advocates are complacent monsters every bit as callously unconcerned with saving unborn babies as those they oppose. Or else, just like those they oppose, these folks do not really believe that “every embryo is morally equivalent to a fully developed child.” [Emphasis mine.]

I think that Clark has a point, and I think that consistent pro-lifers should be much more alarmed about those deaths than they presently are. But I think that again, bodily rights is at work, and the rest is a partially pardonable lack of awareness; and triage; and an understandable, if not completely pardonable, tendency to shrink from what could be a monumental sacrifice. I do not think that pro-lifers “do not really believe.”

Unlike with any kind of cure for AIDS, cancer, etc., saving those zygotes and embryos would require treating not the body of the victim, but the body of another person – the victim’s mother. When abortion is proposed, pro-lifers feel that the life of the embryo should normally override the bodily rights of the woman, and therefore that a justified infringement of her bodily rights is appropriate. But that infringement by society takes the form of preventing a pro-active act of violence on the part of the woman – it is not society pro-actively obliging a woman (a woman who plans no conscious and pro-active act) to ingest some (yet-to-be-developed) chemical or undergo some treatment that would trick her uterus into being more receptive to an embryo. Such an act by society would be a more intrusive infringement on her rights. And even before that infringement, society would have to pro-actively oblige her to submit to tests for the presence of an embryo whose presence would not otherwise be known – probably not even known to her.

I think that we should R&D some treatment that many women might wish to undergo voluntarily. But this lack, on society’s part, of a right to make sure, once the treatment is developed, that it would ever be used and would ever save lives, would be one reason that we do not passionately pursue its development.

I mentioned a “partially pardonable lack of awareness.” There must be many pro-lifers who do not know enough embryology to be aware of these deaths at all. But the pro-life leadership must certainly be aware, and does nothing to educate people. They must certainly be aware; but I feel it may all remain somewhat abstract even for thinking people, because the knowledge is purely statistical. When a sidewalk counselor sees a woman walking into an abortion clinic, that counselor sees a specific case of a life that (seemingly, at least) need not be lost; but we would not even know that the “between 50 percent and 75 percent figure” (assuming that is correct) is a reality, had not technologically-enabled investigations been made, followed by extrapolation from the findings.

“Triage”: I think that we should respond to those little one-celled or 800-celled sisters and brothers of ours exactly as we would respond to our born little sisters and brothers if they were under any threat. But we can expect most of those children whom we will save to be born sickly, and if a billion of our born little sisters and brothers each required the most costly, resource-intensive, and personnel-intensive kind of medical support during their lifetimes of whatever length, our moral obligation to save them by depriving everyone else would have some limit. The pro-choice argument about quality of life is not wrong; their mistake is to apply it discriminatorily, saying that it is particularly one group who must die to free up resources for others.

And finally, I mentioned “an understandable, if not completely pardonable, tendency to shrink from what could be a huge sacrifice” (a mild version of Clark’s “callously unconcerned”). Triage would only justify inaction about those deaths up to a certain point. I think that consistent pro-lifers should be ready to minimize their own expenditure and recreation to do something about those unborn children and everyone else in the world who is seriously suffering, and I don’t know if we’re all ready to do that yet.

I think that consistent pro-lifers should be much more alarmed about the natural deaths of zygotes than they presently are. But I think that if we look for the reasons they are not alarmed, a failure to “really believe” that they are persons is not among those reasons.

© 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

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

 

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

 

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

Some future posts:

Life Panels

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

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

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

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

What’s in It for the Born?

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Life as One Seamless Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dehumanizing Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Giant Leap for Humankind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. “Life Report” on YouTube.

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

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

 

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

Some future posts:

Life Panels

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

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

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

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Only a Potential Person?

 

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

 

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

Some future posts:

Life Panels

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

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

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

No Termination without Representation in This Place

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

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

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

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

© 2015

 

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

Some future posts:

Life Panels

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

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

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

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

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.”
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Too Young for Rights?

 

A rewritten version of this post has been published by Secular Pro-Life under their paid blogging program.

The below comments were comments on the original version. Since they are mostly still applicable to the linked-to revised version, I have not deleted them. But reading them, one should remember that they were not made in response to that linked-to version exactly.

 

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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