From A Proud Abortion Defender, An Inconvenient Truth….

Snake eating its tail

A New York lawyer named Janice Mac Avoy gifted the Washington Post with an op-ed that was supposed to be a powerful brief for abortion. Viewing it as someone who is deeply conflicted about the ethics of abortion, which is to say, someone who is objective and who didn’t make up his mind first and then look for rationalizations to support that position, I recognized it as a perfect example of why abortion advocates still haven’t made a strong enough case for me, and perhaps why they can’t.

I am still surprised, somehow, when lawyers, like Mac Avoy, display poor reasoning skills. I shouldn’t be, I know: I’ve known plenty of dumb lawyers, even rich and successful dumb lawyers. I suppose I am hostage to the mythology of law school, that professors take students whose “minds are much,’ to quote Professor Kingsfield, and transform those minds into whirring computers of emotion- and bias- free rationality. Unfortunately, mush in, mush out tends to be reality.

Mac Avoy places her own mind in the mush column immediately, with her title “I’m a successful lawyer and mother, because I had an abortion.” This shows her adoption of the classic logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “After this, thus because of this.” The statement is factually nonsense, and her column takes off from there.

Some highlights:

1. She writes…

“In spring 1981, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was about to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had a scholarship to college, and I planned to go on to law school. I was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy that had shaped the lives of the previous three generations of women in my family — all mothers by age 18. Then, just before graduation, I learned I was pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I had a friend drive me to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had an abortion.”

Pop quiz: What crucial piece of information is glossed over, indeed strangely omitted, from that account? Mac Avoy “was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy” —so determined and laser focused on the life goal that she suddenly woke up pregnant! How did that happen? Apparently, despite her representation to the contrary, she was not sufficiently determined that she was willing to refuse  to engage in the exact and only conduct that could foil her intent, and that she knew could foil her intent.

I’m not arguing that a teenage mistake of judgment should derail a life, but I am pointing out that to ignore that personal conduct, as Mac Avoy does, and pretend that pregnancy in every case is some unavoidable random tragedy like a rape or incest, is self-serving and intellectually dishonest, and like most pro-abortion rhetoric, avoids the key issues that make abortion a difficult ethical problem.

2. She writes…

“…[A]bortion has become ever more stigmatized, creating a culture of shame that silences women who have exercised their constitutional rights. That vacuum has been filled with misperception and misinformation — including from the Supreme Court. We are told that abortion is harmful to women and that those who choose to have one come to regret it.”

Thaaat’s right, the argument is that they have come to regret it because it was harmful to them. Does MacAvoy really think all her readers are  dim wits and can’t see through her manipulative rhetoric? She’s setting us up, as revealed in the ridiculous headline. “Harmful for women? Abortion is great for women! Look at me!” This is the magical and despicable dishonesty the pro-abotion activists have used forever, the Amazing Disappearing Offspring, or “Baby? What baby? Abortion has nothing to do with babies!” Abortion opponents may, as a supplemental argument, allege that abortion has psychological perils for women, but their overwhelming objection to abortion is that it is harmful, indeed terminal, for a second human life, the one being aborted. Just as the lawyer conveniently ignores her own contribution to her sudden pregnancy, she ignores that factor, and indeed never mentions a second life in the equation anywhere in her op-ed! Opponents of abortion on demand are just trying to oppress women, and that’s all there is to it. What other reason could there be?

3. She writes…

“Like me, 95 percent of women who have had an abortion say that it was the right decision for them, and even among those who expressed some regret, 89 percent state that having the abortion was still the right decision. Nearly 1 in 3 women in this country will have an abortion. That means that while no one talks about it, pretty much everyone, including the Supreme Court justices, whether they are aware of it, knows someone, works with someone and respects and cares about someone who has had an abortion — and doesn’t regret it.”

As a lawyer, I’m embarrassed by this, indeed by the entire article. The people who decide to do something overwhelmingly think it was the right thing to do…So what? This is “Everybody Does It” paired with “If it feels good, do it.” The fact that any group of people who engage in conduct endorse it afterwards has no weight whatsoever in determining whether the conduct is objectively right.

4. She writes:

“If I had been forced to raise a child 35 years ago, I could not have put myself through college and Columbia Law School. I could not have gotten a job at a prestigious law firm and risen through the ranks to become a partner. I would not have met my husband and given birth to two amazing children in my late 30s when I was financially and emotionally ready to raise them.”

Wow.

Terrible.

  • This is a classic false dichotomy. The choices weren’t abortion or forced parenthood, and are not now. She could have given her child up for adoption, and many women did and still do.
  • There is no way to know whether she could have put herself through college and Columbia Law School without having the abortion. She didn’t try. Women have done the equivalent. This is the ultimate hindsight bias.
  • If following the abortion, she had made a series of bad choices, married a bounder, failed at law and ended up broke, unemployed and childless, would she have similarly argued that it was all because of the abortion? Her argument is nothing but consequentialism. The abortion was the fork in the road, she says now that she is extolling abortion, but she only knows where it led after the fact, and with the involvement of hundreds, even thousands of other roads taken and not taken, myriad choices, and pure luck. Attributing all of her current success and happiness to the abortion is absurd, and assuming that a different result was certain had she not had the abortion is the product of not just flawed reasoning, but deceptive argument.

Now, finally, we reach the crux of the matter, where Mac Avoy proves that she either can’t or won’t think this issue through sufficiently, honestly, objectively or competently to be an effective advocate.

She writes that her mother wishes “that she had had the choices that were available to me.”

By Mac Avoy’s own logic, post hoc ergo propter hoc as well as consequentialism, it may have been the absence of an abortion that made her a “a successful lawyer and mother” today. Indeed, it definitely was: that fact is undeniable, while her own cause-and-effect argument is entirely speculative and biased.

The statement is worse than that, however: it demonstrates the complete rejection of the ethical principle of reciprocity by abortion activists and advocates. so much so that a woman extolling her own accomplishments in life and their intrinsic value could write, in the same article, what amounts to ‘Ah, and if only my mother could have aborted me, think what she might have accomplished!’

If a woman is glad she is alive, and grateful she was given a chance at life, why wouldn’t she also consider the most basic and ancient of all ethical systems, The Golden Rule, before eliminating the opportunity to live for her own gestating son or daughter?

Janice Mac Avoy’s entire article, with all of its rationalizations and distorted reasoning aimed at a pre-determined result, not enlightenment, explains why, and vividly. She has been programmed by a movement and a culture to reject the essential reciprocity of nature—you are given life, and pass on life to others–in favor of the most brutal of ethical systems, and the one most susceptible to abuse: the ends justify the means…even when the means involves killing.

___________________

Spark and Pointer: Washington Post letter to the editor author Ron Bishop.

 

 

135 thoughts on “From A Proud Abortion Defender, An Inconvenient Truth….

  1. On more serious notes:

    “…[A]bortion has become ever more stigmatized, creating a culture of shame that silences women who have exercised their constitutional rights.”

    This contention always confuses me. What part of the constitution do they think applies here?

    • And “Nearly 1 in 3 women in this country will have an abortion.” is patently false. To get that statistic, you have to take the number of abortions performed annually, divide it by the number of women in America, and multiply that number by the average number of fertile years a woman has. That is to say: This is only true if you assume that every abortion ever administered is administered to a unique woman.

      If you considered that a plurality women who have an abortion tend to have several, that a single woman can have dozens in her lifetime, and that abortion use is declining*…. It’s more reasonable to assume a number between 10 and 15%.

      *In the (W/P)*Y formula, this affects the Y, they multiply the percentage of women who have an abortion in a year at the same rate regardless of which year it is, this almost certainly over inflates the number because using a 30 year window, regardless of where you start or stop, Abortion was not common 30 years ago, and peaked very recently, so one could assume that 30 years from now the number will have continued it’s trend.

      • I have never heard anyone claim that 33.33% of the women in this country are murderers. Many anti-abortion activists equate abortion with murder (far beyond what anti-abortion laws actually did). These “abortion is murder” activists certainly do not treat this as a huge crisis, as if a third of one sex commits murder.

        (By sharp contrast, at most only 0.0037% of all guns are used to commit criminal homicide. At most, only 0.014% of black people commit criminal homicide.)

    • I believe it I the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protecting the right to privacy. Roe vs. Wade gives a woman the constitutional right to an abortion until viability (which is different than personhood).

          • I think this lawyer was making a very narrow argument, that the majority of women do not regret their abortions.

            It is designed to perhaps influence Justice Kennedy, who (partly) places his opposition to abortion on the notion of “abortion regret.” So the author is speaking to that, and pretty much only that. In that context, her arguments make sense.

            • But you can’t make abortion arguments while partitioning off all other considerations. Why yes, if we ignore the fact that there is this controversial entity called a fetus involved, its an easy call. Judges aren’t impressed with such arguments. It’s a straw man. Abortion as she defines it would need any defenders. She might as well be writing about getting a nose job or breast implants.

              And consequentialism, hindsight bias and post hoc… are per se bad arguments, in any context. And she still endorsed the mind blowing “and if only my mother could have aborted ME” argument. In what context is that consistent with the article?

              • But you can’t make abortion arguments while partitioning off all other considerations.

                Anyone of course, can make such arguments. Whether they are persuasive is another matter. But for a rather short article, a person doesn’t have much space to address all of the issues at play. So she picked an angle, one that hadn’t been picked over, and one that has previously swayed one of the swing-votes on the Supreme Court. As far as “bang for your buck” goes, she could have done worse.

                http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2007/04/father_knows_best.html

                • Then you say: I amd going to address this aspect of the abortion debate. She didn’t do that, and she mischaracterized the debate. You can’t argue for abortion and ignore the entire, central premise of the opposition’s position. Stipulated: if nothing or value was being aborted, nobody would argue that there was anything wrong with abortions.

                  This is like arguing that the the nuking of two Japan cities was a great thing because it allowed Japan to re-industrialize. “Japan is the economic force it is in the world today because we dropped atom bombs on them,” so I’m supporting nuclear warfare.

                  • Stipulated: if nothing or value was being aborted, nobody would argue that there was anything wrong with abortions.

                    Then that becomes more of a circular, philosophical debate, which I don’t think she was particularly interested in getting into. Does a fetus have value? For some people, the obvious answer is “No.” For others, “Yes, no matter what, more value than wishes of walking, talking people.” For most people, I think the answer is, “Sometimes, depending on the circumstances.”

                    But as noted, she wasn’t interested in answering whether or not a fetus has value. The question she wanted to answer was, “Do most women regret their abortions?” And she answered it, “No, most women do not regret their abortions”, using her own personal example as a attention-grabbing jumping off point to get to some global statistics. Mostly, I suspect, to sway Kennedy, or at least keep him from using that particular rationale as an excuse for his vote.

                    • As your response here is circular as well. If you don’t care to get into the real point of contention, then your pretense of debating is a fraud. Once had to cope with pregnancy and new responsibilities, got rid of them, back to square one, problem solved. Who has ever denied that there were benefits to the woman of doing that?

                    • Eh.
                      One question has no real answer, and no real facts to back it up, which is part of the reason that it is so contentious.

                      The one she answered, “Do most women regret their abortions?” can be answered one way or the other (no, 96% of women do not regret their abortions), yet still comes up as a point of debate from time to time, like in Supreme Court decisions. So she answered it.

                    • No, you can’t ethically pretend a tangential issue is the only issue. And the central question isn’t unanswerable. It’s just that one whole side doesn’t want to acknowledge the answer, so they, like this woman, pretend it doesn’t exist.

                    • No, you can’t ethically pretend a tangential issue is the only issue.

                      I don’t think the author ever claimed in her article that “abortion regret” was the only issue at play. She only addressed that issue, but I don’t think she tried to make the case that this article was an exhaustive list. It might be a tangential issue to you, but a swing-vote Supreme Court Justice was concerned enough about it to use it as a basis for his vote, so I don’t think for many people it is a small issue, and it is one that deserves to be addressed, one way or the other.

                      And the central question isn’t unanswerable. It’s just that one whole side doesn’t want to acknowledge the answer, so they, like this woman, pretend it doesn’t exist.

                      I think both sides do answer it. It’s just that neither side likes the answer that the other side gives. And the vast, squishy, “it depends” middle, who like their abortions just fine, but don’t like to think about it very much, and are uncomfortable at the extremes on either side.

                    • If you ever have 15 minutes to spend, and you want to spend them trying to understand the other side, please watch a speech from Gianna Jessen. I’m going to link her below. I can’t say enough good things about this amazing, strong, genuine human being.

                      Gianna is an abortion survivor. At eight months, her mother went into a doctor’s office and asked for an abortion, the abortion that was administered was a saline abortion. (tl|dr: they tried to burn her out of her mother’s womb.) It failed, instead of aborting GIanna, the saline solution induced labor and she was born. The doctor wanted to do a post birth abortion, but the nurse prevented him. Gianna is religious, and wears it on her sleeve. I think she came to it honestly, the people around her that you’d assume would care for her… Her parents, the doctor, the system… utterly betrayed her. It’s something of a miracle that she lived. And so when everyone that you’d normally expect to care for you rejects you, maybe God is a natural place to find hope. She was born in fire and blood, gifted with cerebral palsy, and is one of the most moving speakers I have ever heard. Because not only is she alive and human, but she has what might be one of the most unique experiences there is: Someone tried very hard to kill her, and they failed.

  2. I see Humble has already weighed in.

    I was merely going to suggest that we save time and just link to all of deery’s, Beth’s and their ilk’s arguments where they will ultimately just repeat the deeply flawed and unprincipled arguments discussed above, and then link to all the arguments by people like Humble, or myself, the dissect and sink those arguments.

    Then we can call it a day with little dust up.

  3. I followed the link to the article before finishing Jack’s analysis. I thought I was about read an editorial about an 18 year old having an abortion and used that experience to do great things in life as a way to assuage the consequences of her actions, something on the lines of “I made a mistake, had an abortion, and tried really hard to make up for that”. Instead, it was filled with self-serving, superficial reasoning. The strength of her argument is pure consequentialism. This argument has the same force of logic: “I became a successful lawyer because I broke my leg in a car accident so I couldn’t party with my friends that one weekend when they crashed into a wall., killing the lot of them.”

    I found myself scratching my head at the faulty reasoning and horribly written op-ed piece, purportedly coming from a well-educated, successful New York lawyer. I didn’t bother checking the statistics, though, because I figured there was absolutely no way to support them in the context of her piece. They seemed hard to take at face value, though. After I read the op-ed, I scrolled through the comment section. The comments are deeply depressing, ranging from “you go, girl” and “men have no right to tell women what to do with their bodies”, to “erm . . What about the life ended by the abortion?” .

    I find myself agreeing with Jack’s overall position. This is a very complicated issue and discussion quickly dissolves into polarized rhetoric. I am especially annoyed by the way the Harris County Grand Jury decision to indict the two undercover pro-life operatives who filmed Planned Parenthood representatives has been framed. Planned Parenthood celebrates and declares that it has been vindicated, having been tricked by those dastardly activists deceiving PP reps into saying the things they most likely would have, and did say, anyways. Pro-Life groups condemn the indictment as politically motivated, especially pointing out that a member of the DA’s sat (or sits) on a local PP board (who, according to the DA, did not and will not participate in the case).

    jvb.

    • “men have no right to tell women what to do with their bodies”

      I’ve never quite understood this line of reasoning, that men want to control women’s bodies. I am a man. I don’t care what women do with their bodies. I don’t care what men do with their bodies. I don’t care what people wear, what they get pierced, what they ingest, or what extreme sports that anyone, man or woman, whom is not a part of my life, engages in. I. Do. Not. Care.

      Until their actions have a direct effect on another person. Then I care. And if that person cannot defend themselves, then I care a bit more. And when that person, who cannot defend themselves, has done nothing to invite the actions take upon them, I care more. Anti-abortionists believe a fetus is such a person; pro-abortionist do not. But to essentially argue that men want to play puppet master with women, simply because patriarchy, is stupid, and misleading, as if it’s all about power, and nothing more. I HATE this misleading line of thinking, because it is simpleminded and juvenile, and yet, it is shockingly prevalent.

      Again, women, as long as your actions do not affect others, most men do not care what you do with your bodies.

      “Men have no right to tell women what to do with their bodies” is akin to saying “Person A has no right to tell Person B what they can/cannot do with their body in private, even if it has an effect on another person”. Privacy and all that. I’ll remember that the next time an Adrian Peterson-type situation hits the news.

      “Keep your laws off his body”…catchy, no?

  4. Too depressing for words. Tex and Humble are right, of course, and Beth and deery just make me sad. But I think everything that can be said about abortion has been said.
    As for the reasoning and ethical skills of lawyers, that’s been covered well also. Just one little observation, which Jack already made. If we could somehow adjust the conversation so that we talk about the behavior that results in pregnancy in young girls with too little support, it would accomplish more in the long run. Sadly, that avenue has also been very effectively blocked with the despicable “War on Women” rhetoric. What is stunningly unethical is the use of social memes to silence reasonable and necessary discussion that might make people do their own thinking.

    • I don’t know why I keep getting lumped into the left on this one. I’ve written exhaustively on this blog about abortion and I am the ONLY middle-of-the-road person here. I think abortion is evil, BUT it is a necessary evil for society to function. I’m not in the pro-choice camp or the pro-life camp. Given that neither group likes me, it makes me think I just might be in the right. (Then again, no one likes Ted Cruz either and he is an ass, so I guess I have to consider the possibility that no one likes me for me.)

      • It has nothing to do with liking or not liking it has to do with positions on issues. I have a hard time with middle-of-the-road on this issue. If we’re talking about lives of human beings how can you justify a middle-of-the-road position on whether or not to kill that living being. Self-defense or defense of others seems to me to be the only justifiable reason to kill another human.

      • This is nonsense.

        “I’m not in the pro-choice camp, I just am for the women’s right to choose”

        I don’t know if you kept a straight face when you typed that or not, but even you can see the utter drivel that assertion is…

        You don’t get to arbitrarily move yourself to the ‘middle’ by saying you personally think abortion is evil. No, to measure where someone stands on abortion, one must evaluate which actual legal definitions they would support of when and how we allow the procedure. And frankly, there really isn’t a middle ground. There may be a compromise solution, but it is not middle ground; as any compromise in this situation ultimately causes each side not to accept something they can moderately tolerate, but to accept something they each ABHOR vehemently. That is not middle ground.

      • “I think abortion is evil, BUT it is a necessary evil for society to function.”

        I forgot that little gem.

        A bit hyperbolic I think.

        You really don’t envision a functioning society that doesn’t kill off it’s unborn?

        I think you should consider exactly what you just said.

  5. The “essential reciprocity of nature” did not allow for the low modern fetal and neonatal death rates. Nor did it allow for the low maternal death rates and long lifespans of today. It also evolved in a time when our natural resources weren’t strapped and when people lived cooperatively in small tribes.

    Certainly in this day and age, no one needs to “reciprocate” life. We have reciprocated far too much and our species has become rather a blight upon the planet in many ways. Because nature is still back in the stone ages, modern humans then have to interfere with the natural process and get a bit selective with our reciprocity in order to curb a birth rate that would quickly bankrupt us in all ways.

    Ideally, every person of breeding age is responsible. Unwanted pregnancy would be so rare as to almost be a non-issue. But the world is not ideal, man is not ideal and ethics must function in less than ideal circumstances. It does not help that Nature has given young people raging hormones and healthy young bodies, but they lack in experience, resources, wisdom and self-control. Fecundity often wins. Sperm and egg unite.

    No matter how much we try to push prevention – whether it is through education, intimidation, religion, easy access to birth control, etc…fecundity still wins often enough for it to become a major problem all over the world.
    What to do? Do you outlaw abortion and force girls and women to choose between motherhood when they are not ready for it, or becoming forced brood mares for adoptive couples who choose – not to help the children already born, languishing in foster care, but they want a fresh, new baby, they can more thoroughly indoctrinate into their lives?

    It is unfortunate that few adoptive parents want to help the kids that really need help – the older children in foster care and orphanages (or the human trafficking trade) all over the world. They want a child for selfish reasons. They don’t want one “already messed up”. They want a blank canvas. Preferably a white one. So women who would choose abortion are often manipulated and shamed into bearing children to give up to strangers who would not help an already-born child that needs a home and family.

    That leaves us to consider the ethicality of abortion. Here is where things get very gray. I think there is very little in life that is ALWAYS right or ALWAYS wrong. There is a lot more shades of gray than black or white. But I do believe that the majority of people (death penalty arguments aside) agree that it is wrong to kill someone, especially an innocent child. So….if you believe in your heart as many do, that life begins at conception, that a zygote is a baby, albeit a very small and poorly formed one, then you probably believe abortion is wrong because it kills that baby before they have the opportunity to be born. However, if you consider that life begins at birth, or viability, or sentience, then you are likely not opposed to terminating a pregnancy before that point you perceive as the beginning of life.

    The fundamental disagreement is not whether abortion is ethical or not, but where do we define the beginning of “life”. Religion should not play a part in this argument, because for one, religions are not universal, two, they cannot be proven and are followed with faith, not evidence. And three, they are the constructs of mankind. No matter how passionately you believe that the the particular form of dogma you prescribe to is inspired and approved by whatever higher power you believe in, it remains an indisputable fact that all were written by the hand of man and all are reproduced, edited and manufactured by man alone. If you left making dogma up to the god(s), production would halt completely. So let us set religious objections to abortion aside as unreliable at best.

    It could be argued that abortion ends potential. It is true. You could be aborting a fetus that would grow up and do great things, you could also be aborting a serial killer. No one knows. Most of us even the best and the worst of us, are not all good or all bad, we are both. So it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Since the potential to abort brilliance is balanced with the potential to abort evil, the argument must be considered moot and set aside.

    So we come back to when do you define the beginning of life, when do you become human? Conception? Sentience? Viability? Birth? Something else?

    It is subjective. You choose. Just don’t choose for someone else.

    And as an afterword; please consider opening your heart and your family to an older child as an adoptive parent, foster parent or CASA. They don’t stop being important when they are born or when the baby wears off.

      • “The choices weren’t abortion or forced parenthood, and are not now. She could have given her child up for adoption, and many women did and still do.” Jack brought up adoption as a better alternative. I ask if it is ethical to have waiting lists to adopt infants, to encourage young women to carry pregnancy to term to sate the demands of adopters wanting newborns while older children languish in institutions and foster care, desperate for loving families. In my observation, it seems a lot of those deeply concerned with the unborn have little concern for them once they are born and no longer cute and easily molded. They don’t want to adopt to help a child – to change someone’s life. They want to adopt to fill their own needs and life expectations.

        • Warning: this is harsh, and don’t take it personally, but that was an awful response:

          No, Lisa, we are not suggesting women carry children to term so people can adopt. There you go, making the child vanish again. We carry the children to term as a more humane, kind, responsible, honest and fair alternative to ripping their bodies apart, crushing their beating hearts, or sucking out their brains. Gee, it’s a shame that there are consequences to sexual activity, but the species is made that way. Tough.

          Make a life, you’re responsible for a life. You don’t get to pretend that it’s a wart, or a construct. Let it do what it will do, and it grows up to be President. Don’t lecture someone else about being responsible: I’ll take care of my children, thanks, and killing them isn’t an option. And I did adopt, and in Russia, because there were no infants here we were able to adopt.

          That’s a terrible, obnoxious and unethical argument, and pro-abortion advocates expose themselves as intellectually lazy and neglecting genuine and serious consideration of the act they are defending when they use it: ah, yes, by all means, its better to kill a child then let her cope with the proclivities of adoption. The trouble of bringing a child to term is by no ethical measure so objectively horrible that it justifies taking another being’s life because you can, and that’s about the size of it. It’s legal, so there.

          • Your response hangs on your assumption that life begins at conception. I would consider that life begins somewhere between sentience and viability. I have no moral qualms whatsoever with early abortion. If someone has zygotes (fertilized eggs that are multicellular) frozen for future use and decides to discard the unused ones. I don’t consider that unethical, do you? They are not viable and they are not sentient.

            • Life does begin at conception. The question is when reasonably protected life with human rights attach. Life has to begin somewhere, and it begins when cells of new creature start dividing. I am willing to believe that for reasons Beth calls “necessary but evil,” a new human being may have to be vulnerable to legal killing until some second point. But I require an acknowledgement that there is distinct human life there. Abortion activists retroactively decided that there was not, because it relieved them of responsibility in their own eyes. Nope .

            • Agreed, except I would say “personhood” instead of “life.” Fetuses are obviously alive at conception. But they have no ability to think or feel, and thus their existence has little moral weight at that point.

                • I’m extremely hesitant to jump into this, but I think this is an important consideration that’s overlooked in this debate, if I’m thinking along the same lines as Chris. But, Jack, please read all of it before you try to counter it.

                  One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage in the first trimester, naturally. If you believe that each human being deserves the same considerations, then there is a natural genocide happening every day. A quarter of the world population is flushed down the toilet, literally, we don’t hold funerals for them. While women might react differently to those miscarriages, we don’t, as a rule, expect them to mourn the death of their child. Most of them never knew they were pregnant, and while it’s hard on some of those who do, some of them are going to be relieved. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider either reaction an ethical failing.

                  As a society, we aren’t at all concerned with doing anything about this period of premature death, assuming you think of these as human beings. Most people, when they learn this, will frown and nod, or shrug. The only people even tangentially trying to stop this are the people doing genetic experimentation, and even they aren’t really concerned about it, it would just be a happy side effect if they found a way to prevent it.

                  So, totally leaving aside the issue of abortion, why do we treat these human lives differently? “Because everyone does it,” or “because we’ve always done it that way” would be the obvious answers, but those are ethically unsound. As is “because there’s nothing we can do about it” (at least on the surface, we’ll get to that.) So, morally or ethically, do we need to start giving proper burials to these human corpses? Do we need to start grieving their loss, and working to prevent it, as we would any innocent human who died before their time?

                  I’ve thought about this a lot, and the answer I’ve come to is that in this case the rationalization that we can’t do anything about it is true, and it creates the necessity in human thought that we do not treat these as fully human lives. We, as individual people and as a culture, couldn’t bear it, being faced with mass death that is utterly beyond our ability to do anything about, at the time when these lives should be just beginning. So we don’t. There are no graveyards full of the zygotes of anti-abortion activists.

                  Now, yes, obviously abortion in this period is something we can prevent. But that’s where this comes in: we already don’t think of these as human beings. It seems ridiculous that if this human life ends of natural causes it’s socially, morally, and ethically fine for a woman to flush the corpse down the toilet on her lunch break and go back to work, but if she chooses to end it it’s evil.

                  Now, obviously, as pregnancy progresses miscarriage becomes more and more serious psychologically for the family, doctors work harder to prevent it and potential causes, and in my personal opinion a still birth is among the saddest things to think of in the world. As the life grows during pregnancy, we come to see it as human life– someone who flushes a still born baby down a toilet is clearly insane, and someone who kills a newborn is probably evil and insane.

                  It makes sense to me that abortion law acknowledges this progression. How it does so is difficult, because the weight we give to each life varies– women who have been trying to conceive do grieve after a miscarriage, while women who didn’t want to might celebrate. At some point we start judging the latter as immoral, but I doubt we can agree when that is, but in my view that is what abortion law is attempting to find; a good spot for that turning point.

                  • I guess I don’t see the connection. My mother had two miscarriages, and they were considered family tragedies. Miscarriages are accidents, unsuccessful pregnancies. What’s your point? That we don’t grieve for those prematurely lost lives sufficiently? Who says that? Are you saying that its hypocritical to be concerned about a growing human life that is terminated through superior power and self-interest, and not, what, build monuments to a miscarried fetus?

                    There are people who don’t care when their siblings and spouses die. Does that mean it would be hypocritical if they objected to someone killing them? A life’s value is not defined by who grieves its lost, nor is life worthy of respect because of callousness or apathy, or denial.

                    • My point is that as a culture, and as human beings, we don’t treat the first trimester of life as the time of mortal peril that it is; there are no foundations looking to save these lives, there’s no moral judgement about whether anyone values them or not.

                      If someone doesn’t care if a parent of sibling dies, there is moral judgement from society attached to that. If the parent or sibling was an innocent who had never wronged anyone, we would view an uncaring relative as a psychopath. We, as a culture, view those parents and siblings as humans. We give time off work because we expect family members to care. We have laws about the treatment of corpses, even if no one cares, because we believe someone should.

                      As a culture, no one has any such expectation for at least the first trimester of life, and as I said I think there’s a valid reason for that, And I think ignoring that in the abortion debate is ignoring a necessary part of our ethical system, not just as a culture but as sapient beings.

                    • Isn’t that what the whole, and I thought, vigorous effort to improve and encourage pre-natal care is about? Have you ever watched the reaction in a room if a pregnant woman has a martini or puffs on a cigarette? Some states have indicted women for fetal abuse as they tried to induce a miscarriage. I just don’t see from where you are deriving this concept.

                    • (Replying here because it doesn’t give me a reply button to the post I’m responding to)

                      “Isn’t that what the whole, and I thought, vigorous effort to improve and encourage pre-natal care is about? Have you ever watched the reaction in a room if a pregnant woman has a martini or puffs on a cigarette? Some states have indicted women for fetal abuse as they tried to induce a miscarriage. I just don’t see from where you are deriving this concept.”

                      I was pregnant two years ago. Fetal health is a big concern, but mostly aimed at later developmental problems. Obstetricians won’t even make an appointment until around the end of the first trimester. During that time, there’s literally nothing you can do if there’s a problem. I had been trying to conceive for a long time, but even when I had a scare all they could tell me was to try to relax and get a blood test to find out if I was still pregnant. For the first 2/3rds of the trimester there’s not a heartbeat, so they can’t even tell if it’s alive at all outside of hormone levels.

                      Most laws and medical studies are focused after the first trimester. The first trimester is really just hoping you get through it.

                    • I think you are really straining to pretend that it is the same thing to lose a baby naturally as it is to actively kill the baby that was otherwise doing fine.

                      If a 1st Trimester baby has a 3 in 4 chance of making it out of the 1st trimester, that still infinitely better than the odds of a 1st Trimester baby’s chances if they are actively killed.

                      If someone is killed in a tornado, we accept that nature sure sucks sometimes, but if that same someone were killed by another human, we wouldn’t make the same equivalencies. You’re the first pro-abortionist I’ve heard actually try to elucidate this argument. Most others only passingly allude to it.

                    • Tex: What I’m saying is that if a doctor won’t treat it as a human life in danger, if it’s in danger, and the medical establishment and the public has no interest in finding a way to treat it if it’s in danger, I have no problem if someone wants to put it in danger or end it.

                      If you want to start to organization to try to save these lives, and you get enough interest to get to work on it, I’ll reconsider my position. But *no one* gave a shit about helping me get my daughter, you were all happy to leave it up to the roll of the dice. You only care about the ones that people *don’t* want.

                      I was lucky, and I have a beautiful daughter. But when I was terrified, all of this time and energy were going to prevent abortion and *nothing* was or is going to helping the people who want their children at that stage.

                      Now, once again, there is a point where fetal health becomes a concern to doctors and to health organizations and the people who support them. And at that point, I think it’s fair to talk about abortion as an evil. But before that point, in the dark woods of the first trimester? No, you don’t care if they die, and neither does anyone else.

                    • Huh??

                      How is anyone obligated to pour resources into everyone else’s efforts to ensure that every last passive or natural danger on this planet is mitigated?

                      I don’t think you really thought this through.

                      Again, it isn’t the same as people being obligated not to actively increase or actually BE the danger posed to everyone else’s efforts in life…

                    • It’s not a matter of obligation, it’s a matter of treating it as a worthy human life.

                      No one does, except the parents on an individual basis.

                      If no one, from doctors to people on the street, treats it as a human life worth saving, I don’t see the point in protecting it at that point. As I said, if you expect me to flush it down the toilet and go to work if it dies, I don’t see where it’s evil to kill it.

                    • We burn bodies of loved ones, or bury them. Frankly, I see no special reason to have reverence for the body of any dead human—the life is gone. This..

                      As I said, if you expect me to flush it down the toilet and go to work if it dies, I don’t see where it’s evil to kill it.

                      …doesn’t follow at all. Imagine the money and land that could be saved if we could flush corpses down the toilet.

                    • Culturally, most people don’t agree with you. We don’t like it when mothers leave still born babies in dumpsters, for example, even if they were in fact stillborn. And while technically necrophilia is a victimless crime… most people aren’t okay with that.

                      But culturally, we treat zygotes differently. Because we think of them differently. Because we have to, or we’d have to deal with the idea of a quarter of the population dying in the same three months of life, and I don’t believe humans can do that unless we have a way to try and stop it (which we probably never will, because we can’t think of it. Bit of a spot we got ourselves into there.)

                      Anyway, I’ve said my piece, so I’m bowing out of this one. But maybe consider, if you hear about someone having an abortion at 9 or 10 weeks, that a doctor wouldn’t even make an appointment at that point, that if she wanted that baby, and it was dying, no one would do anything about it.

                  • The major difference is that pregnancies that end naturally in the first trimester often end because the fetus is unfit, and also because many times they are ‘blighted ovum’ pregnancies, or ‘early pregnancy failures’. The egg implants, but the fetus never develops…there isn’t a baby in the first place, or development stops due to chromosomal defects. They are not able to develop. The placenta never develops. Aborted babies often have nothing at all wrong with them other than inconvenient timing. A healthy life is being intentionally ended.

                    The prenatal vitamins, folic acid etc you’re given at the outset of a pregnancy are to prevent miscarriage. It’s all that can be done at this point. There is nothing that can save a fetus with chromosomal defects incompatible with development. So while medical professionals do care, there isn’t a lot they can do.

                    I have no idea where you get the idea that fetuses in the first trimester are not thought of as human, and they are not mourned. I mourned the one I lost, and my daughter-in-law mourned also. All the women in my family lost their first, and all were saddened. I don’t think that strangers, society as a whole, should be called upon to mourn every miscarriage….isn’t enough that their parents do? Their loss does not go unnoticed.

    • “What to do? Do you outlaw abortion and force girls and women to choose between motherhood when they are not ready for it, or becoming forced brood mares for adoptive couples who choose – not to help the children already born, languishing in foster care, but they want a fresh, new baby, they can more thoroughly indoctrinate into their lives?”

      First off, false dichotomy. But to answer your question: No. Outlawing doesn’t work, women just get unsafe back alley abortions. Shame. Shame works wonders. It’s 2015, as Justin Trudeau loves to say, and in 2015, with birth control, contraceptives and education, it is cripplingly stupid and utterly juvenile to become pregnant when you don’t want to be. Regardless of what she does next, there SHOULD be shame. And if what she does next is have an abortion, there should be more. It’s her body, it’s her right, but she’s an utterly bankrupt human being.

      “I think there is very little in life that is ALWAYS right or ALWAYS wrong.”

      Granted. But most things in life are USUALLY right or USUALLY wrong. What do you think abortion is?

      “The fundamental disagreement is not whether abortion is ethical or not, but where do we define the beginning of “life”. Religion should not play a part in this argument, because for one, religions are not universal, two, they cannot be proven and are followed with faith, not evidence. And three, they are the constructs of mankind.”

      I’m very biased for the children. Fetuses. Zygotes. Whatever you want to call us. I’m also not even a little bit religious. Do you know why I’m biased for the unborn outside the paradigm of religion? I used to be one.

      “Since the potential to abort brilliance is balanced with the potential to abort evil, the argument must be considered moot and set aside.”

      Ick. Ick Ick Ick. And more Ick. Let’s play a balancing act with the relative morality of dead babies. I don’t even want to get into this except to say that while there are some great people, and some evil people, the vast majority of us are merely good people, and we count.

      “So we come back to when do you define the beginning of life, when do you become human? Conception? Sentience? Viability? Birth? Something else?
      It is subjective. You choose. Just don’t choose for someone else.”

      I don’t think you realize how ironic that statement is. I’m just saying, has anyone asked the kid when her life starts? I mean, we don’t get to choose for someone else when their lives start, right?

      You’ve outlined a dilemma. If you believe she’s alive (a life?), it’s murder… And if you don’t, it’s not. We treat this like it’s some strange mysticism, like it’s unanswerable…. But this question does have an answer: She’s alive. Don’t kill her and let her prove it to you.

      The real dilemma is a legal one: The right to bodily autonomy is warring with the right to life. Does the body of the mother supersede the life of the child? A less charitable person might point out that unless you’re the virgin Mary, chances are that the choices you made led you to the position you’re in, where the child didn’t ask to be there, and so you should lie in the bed you made for nine months to avoid murder. But like I said… a less charitable person. I realize that position is untenable.

      Damn. If only there was something if only there was something. Something simple, non invasive and free… Something perhaps made free with Obamacare, for instance… Like a pill, or a patch or something. That could render this whole situation moot. Guy who figures that out would make a fortune.

      • “I’m just saying, has anyone asked the kid when her life starts? I mean, we don’t get to choose for someone else when their lives start, right?”

        If you or I were aborted at 6 or 8 weeks gestation we would have had no cognitive knowledge of our life, what life is or what potential if any we had. We could have not known, nor could have cared if we were aborted. That requires sentience at the least. How many people do we need? How many are enough? How many are too many?

        As I said, ideally everyone of breeding age is responsible. Everyone makes use of the resources available to you to keep from getting pregnant when that is not the desired outcome. But that is not reality. People are imperfect and hormones and evolution (and beer) work hard to tempt people to take risks. We have to deal with reality.

        • “How many people do we need? How many are enough? How many are too many?”

          You say this like it means something. It doesn’t. But your inner eugenicist is showing. It’s 2015!* We don’t ascribe to the Hansel and Gretel School of Parenting. We shouldn’t kill our children if we have to many, we should figure out what’s causing those pregnancies and you know… Not do it.

          “As I said, ideally everyone of breeding age is responsible. Everyone makes use of the resources available to you to keep from getting pregnant when that is not the desired outcome. But that is not reality. People are imperfect and hormones and evolution (and beer) work hard to tempt people to take risks. We have to deal with reality.”

          Indeed. I’m going to go one step further: People are inherently biased towards laziness. In fact, we spend an amazing amount of time and energy figuring out how to do less work sometimes. Taking that into consideration. How do we overcome laziness? Education and training helps, but you know what else helps? Consequences.

          Consequences are important. Without consequences, people tend towards excess. We’d eat cheesecake all day if we wouldn’t get fat, we’d watch TV 24/7 if we wouldn’t starve, we’d gamble all our money if we wouldn’t go broke (Oh wait? Banks. Too big to fail.) And you know what else we’d do? We’d have unprotected sex all day if we wouldn’t get buried in kids and poop. (Oh what? Abortions… What are these pills for again?)

          The lack of consequences leads to stupid decisions. We need consequences. We need to push education and contraceptives and stop using abortion as a form of birth control. And we need to stop celebrating like it isn’t a blighted choice to a shitty problem.

          *Sorry, our new Prime Minister is fond of saying this as a reason we should do things, and I’m having fun using it in situations where we should know very simple, basic things but seem not to. Ultimately it’s sarcastic. I should stop. One last time.

      • Shame works wonders, but it won’t eliminate irresponsible pregnancy. However, what the post’s columnist is doing is the opposite. Abortion is wonderful! It makes you rich and happy! And I son’t see any babies or fetuses, do you? Not in my article! Come on in, the water’s swell!!

        • Truth. And I doubt anything will absolutely eliminate abortions… But the world we live in has more black children aborted than born, year after year in New Your City. It’s an (excuse my Quebecois) fucking insane waste. I`m pushing for progress. Let`s kill fewer babies.

                  • That’s actually less of an Ah-HA than you think, populations generally increase, so when a number is increasing per capita, it is almost by definition increasing in raw numbers as well, but if a number is rising in raw numbers, the per capita isn’t necessarily increasing. On the other side: when a per capita rate is reducing, the raw number could still be increasing, but a reduction in raw numbers almost certainly means a reduction in the per capita rate. In this case, a reduction in the raw number of pregnancies would almost certainly mean a reduction in the abortions per capita, and possibly in the abortions per pregnancy rate.

                    The thing is, I’m really trying hard to find data on this, and I can’t for the life of me. I’m beginning to think it’s a bunk stat making rounds on the internet.

                    • My ah-Ha was only reflecting what you said: a numerical reduction in abortion, or unwed pregnancy, or many other youth-linked phenomenon prove nothing in our aging society.

                    • No Jack, the baby boomers have been infertile for some time now. Abortion rates steadily increased until they hit a high in 2010, every year since 2010, rates have been dropping dramatically. This is a good thing!

                    • It’s a good thing. Why have the articles promoting abortion as an absolute good and desirable thing increased as well? Do abortion advocates look at reduced numbers of abortion as a bad thing? Fewer successful female lawyers on the horizon?

                  • I think the majority of pro-choice supporters are looking forward to the day when this debate is over because abortions will be few and far between. Protect the right, but hope that it will rarely, if ever, need to be exercised.

      • “in 2015, with birth control, contraceptives and education, it is cripplingly stupid and utterly juvenile to become pregnant when you don’t want to be. Regardless of what she does next, there SHOULD be shame. And if what she does next is have an abortion, there should be more. It’s her body, it’s her right, but she’s an utterly bankrupt human being.”

        If there was an ability to star a comment, I’d star this ’til my arm fell off. Well said.

    • You know, abortion ratioanalizers increasingly pull me to the other side, because all of their arguments are unethical, rationalizations, brutal or stupid.

      Elsewhere you try these:

      “If you or I were aborted at 6 or 8 weeks gestation we would have had no cognitive knowledge of our life, what life is or what potential if any we had. We could have not known, nor could have cared if we were aborted. That requires sentience at the least.” Popular, but crap. We don’t kill living people at the end of their life who are no longer sentience, and they won’t be gaining sentience. You’re killing a being because you want to stop it from gaining sentience. You stop it: you can’t then use its absence of a feature being withheld from it to justify its death.

      “How many people do we need? How many are enough? How many are too many?”
      Oh, your abortion is a noble act of population control, is it? We’re not talking about solving hunger in Africa when a Potomac, Md. teen has an abortion so she can sail through high school without the inconvenience of raising it. Utter straw man.

      Then with this one, you try others, like..

      “Certainly in this day and age, no one needs to “reciprocate” life.” Oh, you mean basic ethics are no longer cool? Here’s the minimal reciprocation: your mother didn’t kill you, so you treat your gestating daughter with the same kindness and respect and love that your mother gave to you, and that you damn well better appreciate. That’s all. I know, the Golden Rule is so First Century.

      “It could be argued that abortion ends potential. It is true. You could be aborting a fetus that would grow up and do great things, you could also be aborting a serial killer.”

      Laughable. It’s not arguable,it’s fact. If the kid becomes a serial killer, he abused life, but he at least had his shot. Another straw man. Nobody said that you should kill fetuses because thet might be someone great. They WILL be a human being. Human beings are great.

          • No, it’s alive. It’s a human life. It just isn’t a person, because people have the ability to think and feel, and a fertilized ovum does not.

            • No, Chris, personhood is a cooked standard, as it sets the bar at what most people regard as not only being sentient, but having a personality. Again, it’s a construct desigedn to make debate impossible, by assuming what is in question.

              If a human being, living, with individual human DNA, will grow and proceed to full human, individual status unless fatally interfered with, that being has more right to life than a wart, a cow, or any other living thing that will never be a living, functioning human being. From where does the ethical logic come to allow another human being, simply because it can, end that life’s journey to humanity? I have not read a good answer yet. I have heard…

              …because it makes it easier for the powerful being to become a lawyer
              …that it relieves the individual responsible for creating the being from having to be discomforted for 9 months
              …because it can’t think, though it will soon
              …because children are starving in India
              …because its really an alien parasite
              …because we’ve cleverly defined its human qualities out of existence so it could be aborted
              …because its legal
              …because biology is so unfair

              What else ya got?

                    • Correction: It can’t vote yet.

                      This goes back to my thesis of “liberals hate children”.

                      “In any situation where a liberal can choose to support the rights of an individual who can vote over the rights of an individual who can’t vote, the liberal will choose to support the voter. The exception to this is if the voter belongs to a group that tends not to vote for them, and the non voter could be empowered to vote as a result of their support.”

                    • Let’s enter “what if” territory for a moment.

                      “What if” Junior wasn’t a comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger. What if it was a documentary. What if men could become pregnant. Let’s go one step further: What if for some reason women could no longer become pregnant.

                      I think that the religious right would still oppose abortion. There are truly sexist rules within the church, but things like : “Thou shall not murder” are pretty absolute and held to both sides. I think that the people who see abortion as wrong would still see abortion as wrong, because it is, and it doesn’t matter who you are, there are healthy populations of both men and women in the pro-life movement. But I think that the position of the left would be different. I really do. I don’t think that they would become fervent anti-abortion activists, but I do think they’d cease to care so much. I think they’d leave the men out to dry, and feel good about themselves while doing it. In fact, I think they’d be much more interested over how disenfranchised the women would be, no longer able to become pregnant.

      • “Popular, but crap. We don’t kill living people at the end of their life who are no longer sentience, and they won’t be gaining sentience.”

        Sure we do. Have you never heard of “pulling the plug” on braindead people?

        “You’re killing a being because you want to stop it from gaining sentience. You stop it: you can’t then use its absence of a feature being withheld from it to justify its death.”

        Of course you can, since the argument is that without sentience, there is no right to life. The fact that it might (might! there is no guarantee) gain sentience at a later point does not retroactively give a non-sentient life rights.

        • Wrong…wrong. 0-2

          1. Because you pull the plug: they cannot live, they cannot grow, they cannot exist without mechanical assistance. When you pull the plug and they live, the law does not permit killing them.They are still alive.

          2. The argument is bootstrapping. Where does it say that the right to life is conditional on present sentience, when sentience is inevitable if the fetus is not attacked? No where. This was a construct created to rationalize abortion.

          • . Because you pull the plug: they cannot live, they cannot grow, they cannot exist without mechanical assistance. When you pull the plug and they live, the law does not permit killing them.They are still alive.

            If the plugger and plugee both agreed to insert the plug in the first place, who is anyone else to pull the plug?

            • They live. If the plug? . Because you pull the plug: the plugee both agreed to insert they cannot live, they live, the plugee both agreed to insert the plug and plugee both agreed to insert them.They cannot exist without mechanical assistance. When you pull the plug in the law does not exist without mechanical assistance. When you pull the plug: the plugger and plugger and plugee both agreed to pull the plug: they cannot exist without mechanical assistance.

        • “Of course you can, since the argument is that without sentience, there is no right to life.”
          One problem I have with this argument is that there is nothing special about birth as regards sentience. If you are going to make this argument, be honest and pick a point that makes more sense, or some kind of practical test for sentience. Since sentience is defined as the ability to feel and react, depending on how you define that, that stage is reached at about the 30th week of gestation at the outside limit and perhaps weeks earlier. If sentience is really the deciding factor, and I am not sure it should be, you would want to err on the side of caution and pick a point where you could be sure it had not been achieved.

          • “One problem I have with this argument is that there is nothing special about birth as regards sentience.”

            I agree, which is why I oppose abortions after the first trimester.

            “Since sentience is defined as the ability to feel and react, depending on how you define that, that stage is reached at about the 30th week of gestation at the outside limit and perhaps weeks earlier.”

            Isn’t that about where most people draw the line?

      • I mean, if no one wants to continue the species, that’s fine, I guess. Pathetic, but fine. I don’t see any reason to hold that theoretical people who haven’t even been conceived yet have an inherent collective right to be brought into existence. I’ll wax poetic on that in the last three paragraphs.

        Regarding the “where does personhood begin” question: What if I had a machine that would, when a timer hit zero, merge a human sperm cell and a human egg cell and begin to gestate the resulting zygote into a complete human baby. Without the intervention of sapient beings, this machine will create a sapient being. You might even say that it has already started creating the sapient being, since the timer is part of the system that automatically creates the child. It’s only one mechanical step away from the regular process (well, that and there’s no other human involved in gestation).

        If I stopped the timer, would it be murder? What if I stopped the timer, then started it again? How long would I have to stop it before it became murder? Would I be guilty when one of the gamete cells died?

        My ethical obligations are to people, to conscious entities, to sapient beings. Not to the species, not to a mass of cells with human DNA. I don’t as yet have any ontological reason to consider a person a biological entity that does not have the structural qualities required to manifest consciousness (i.e. some sort of brain). Actively killing someone whose brain has been irreparably destroyed? Unsentimental, probably unnecessary, possibly even spiteful, but not inherently unethical. Preventing a mass of cells from generating a consciousness? A waste of biological potential, but it’s not like such masses are rare, and we can’t always give the consciousness what it needs to develop (though we could if we were better at trying). Resurrecting a consciousness that has been destroyed or corroded? Laudable, sometimes even possible.

        The basic principle is that consciousness doesn’t have to be created, but once it is, it should always go forward, never backward, and if it does go backward, we should help it recover. I would advocate resurrecting any consciousness that has ever existed (yes, any; how they are treated after resurrection depends on that person’s past choices) but in the event that reconstructing the brain hardware, the seat of consciousness, is effectively impossible, I see nothing inherently wrong with destroying the body even if it is still biologically “alive”. They’re called vegetables for a reason.

        I advocate helping existing consciousness develop, protecting it from harm, restoring consciousness that has been harmed or destroyed (though is seldom possible), and to a certain extent creating new consciousness. What happens to non-conscious physical matter is entirely subordinate to the well-being of conscious entities.

        Regarding the argument that we shouldn’t cut off the chance for a person to exist because we only exist because we received such chances, that’s ontologically flawed reasoning. None of us asked to exist. Our parents didn’t go to the ethereal adoption agency and arrange to take an adorable disembodied soul home with them and give them a birthday suit. Creating a person isn’t supposed to be a favor to that person. A nonexistent person doesn’t crave existence. Creating a person is supposed to be a favor to the world. Well, culturally and historically it’s a selfish thing, having someone to continue on your traditions or support you in your old age, but I personally think the point of it should be to advance consciousness in the world.

        More to the point, we can’t possibly owe existence to nonexistent people. As I understand the reasoning, “I exist because my parents decided to get married and have children. Existence is such a precious gift, how would I feel if I were denied it? How would my theoretical future kids feel if I decided not to have them?” The answer is that I wouldn’t feel, and they wouldn’t feel either. Nobody’s suffering, here. Oblivion isn’t full of potential people waiting to possibly be born, going insane with boredom.

        I happened to exist rather than not. I will continue to do my best while I exist, but I wouldn’t object on my own behalf to never having existed. I would object on behalf of the people I’ve helped. Furthermore, my potential children are infinite in number. So are everyone else’s. We can’t all exist in this universe. Well, not until we all live in a fractal supercomputer. The argument that aborting a fetus is wrong not because it is already a person, but because it would become a person, is ethically a slippery slope.

        • I think it’s a weak argument, and always have. The use of “people” rigs the debate. Once one admits that it’s growing human life, which it undeniably is, then the argument becomes untenable, thus it is denied. Obviously the point at which the growth of the living organism begins is the beginning of that organism’s life by definition.The counter argument is like saying the beginning of house doesn’t start until the roof has been built, or until it’s fit to spend the night in.

          You’re a smart squid: surely you see that the exclusive focus on consciousness is a bootstrap argument to avoid facing reality. Why should consciousness be the key factor in the right to go on living when consciousness has no use or purpose at that point in life? Why not pick some other feature, like ability to ski? Whether it has consciousness or not is irrelevant to anything: you’re not going to have conversation. What matters is whether if left alone, the being will have consciousness, and the answer to that is “OH NO!!! YES!!!” So those determine to kill it ignore the question and the answer. When I say, “Well, then can sleeping people be killed ethically?” , they say, “Don’t be silly! They’re going to wake up.” Bingo—and a fetus will “wake up” too, if you don’t kill it. Just give it time.

          Don’t you see that all of these arguments were devised to justify something that became feasible, for convenience’s sake? Nobody made the consciousness argument in the 19th century. Nobody cared. It’s an unborn child, and of course you don’t killed them, unborn or born. Wait! It can’t play Yahtzee! It’s not a person unless it can play Yahtzee!

          The ethics solution is balancing, with a sliding scale of human right to life based on viability balanced against the acknowledged importance of autonomy and self-determination of women. Rape, incest—irrelevant to the value of the life, relevant to the autonomy of the woman. A late term abortion so birth-control eschewing Sandy can go to the prom in her news dress? Unethical. She gets to give up the kid for abortion, or, if not have a penalty. her choice. A poor couple who can’t afford the kids they have, and mess up? Absolutely: the early term, non-viable fetus loses the right to life. I’ll have respect for pro-abortion forces when they admit there’s a second life, however unconscious, that deserves some care, compassion, fairness and respect.

          • What makes “human” less arbitrary than “conscious”? How would you value the life of an obviously sapient space alien? How would you tell it would be murder to kill it, if it’s not human? How do you tell that killing animals is not murder? What makes humans so special? I’m not using “conscious” as a vacuous term; I actually have a functional definition of it. It’s not a technique to avoid facing reality. I may need to go into it if it’s not clear that “human” and “person” are not the same thing at all.

            Your “house” analogy raises an excellent point. At what point does the structure become a “house”? The answer is that it depends on why you’re asking. Do you want to calculate how many square feet it has? Do you want it to have working utilities? Do you want to spend the night in it? Do you want to host guests in it? “House” is just a label, with no functional effect.

            The same applies to consciousness. What is it that we want to protect? What are we? Without the answers to those questions, we can’t hope to answer the question of abortion. I know what I want to protect, and I know what I think people are. Most people just seem to gloss over the questions.

            To address one of your other points, a sleeping person is a physical system that has had a functioning consciousness, complete with memories and skills, and will manifest it again. To me, a consciousness that has not developed is fine to prevent from developing, but a consciousness that has manifested should be allowed or assisted to manifest again and continue to develop.

            What is your answer to my time-delay zygote machine problem? If it helps, imagine that the machine will be incorporated into the body of the new person, a cyborg, so the whole thing counts as a “body” which will generate a consciousness if left alone. I still don’t see the difference between a non-conscious physical system that will develop into a person without interference and a non-conscious physical system that require interference to develop into a person. To help me get a sense of your paradigm, to what degree do you think that infants are blank slates?

            • What makes “human” less arbitrary than “conscious”?
              Because taking a human life is the issue, in law and ethics. In law, taking a conscious life or an unconscious one without consent are both wrong.

              How would you value the life of an obviously sapient space alien?

              Not relevant. When we reach that point, we’ll have to debate it. But that’s a different debate. And issue.

              How would you tell it would be murder to kill it, if it’s not human?

              Ditto. But it wouldn’t be murder unless there was a law making it so. It might be an unethical killing.

              How do you tell that killing animals is not murder?

              You’re asking a lawyer this? Because that’s not the definition of murder.

              What makes humans so special?
              It’s human society, and our legal and ethical principles are designed to benefit humanity, not animals or aliens.

              I’m not using “conscious” as a vacuous term; I actually have a functional definition of it. It’s not a technique to avoid facing reality. I may need to go into it if it’s not clear that “human” and “person” are not the same thing at all
              .

              Person, as I already said, is cheating. The issue is viable, growing, healthy human life destined to become a person.

              Your “house” analogy raises an excellent point. At what point does the structure become a “house”?

              That wasn’t what the analogy was for. The question is when the house “begins.” It begins when construction begins. It ends when it is destroyed, and once it is destroyed, WHEN it was destroyed doesn’t matter to the house. Dead is dead.

              • At what point in the construction of the house, then, can you stop, tear everything down, and still legitimately say that a “house” was destroyed? That sounds like the relevant question, which would make my other house-related questions very relevant.

                I was unclear in my previous post; I am using “conscious”, “sapient”, and “person” to all refer to the same thing. I was using “murder” not in the legal sense, but to refer to the killing of a person, as opposed to a non-person system of living matter, like a plant or animal. Sorry for the ambiguity.

                “It’s human society, and our legal and ethical principles are designed to benefit humanity, not animals or aliens.”
                That sounds exactly like cultural relativism to me. I could start my own society and say that our ethical principles are designed to benefit us and no one else. That’s not objectively ethical, though. In fact, that’s the basis for genocide. Ethics applies to all people, not just one group.

                I’m not concerned with the law, which defines personhood as equivalent to being a member of the human species. I’m concerned with ethics, which is not subordinate to the law. You’ve done science-fiction ethics scenarios before, including on this very topic. I was under the impression that such an accomplished ethicist should be well enough versed in philosophy to be able to decide ethical matters with other sapient species.

                “Person, as I already said, is cheating. The issue is viable, growing, healthy human life destined to become a person.”
                “Destined” sounds more like cheating. Do you have a functional definition of “destined”? What about my time-delay zygote machine? Or what if I break up a couple who were otherwise “destined” to have kids without my intervention? I define a conscious entity by what it is now, not what it will be according to an contrived concept of causality.

                • I applaud your efforts, EC, and I remain puzzled as to why more people can’t see consciousness as the clear dividing line it is. It seems obvious to me that if I were born with a fully functioning heart, but no brain or ability to experience the world, I would not be entitled to “rights;” certainly not the right to use someone else’s body in order to stay alive. Without our ability to experience, we have no more claim to rights than does a plant.

                  • “It seems obvious to me that if I were born with a fully functioning heart, but no brain or ability to experience the world, I would not be entitled to “rights;””

                    Citation please. A live human, regardless of mental capacity, would seem to me to have certain rights, even if those rights were different from the population at large. Can you find any legal precedent to back your assertion up?

                    “I remain puzzled as to why more people can’t see consciousness as the clear dividing line it is.”

                    Because they will eventually become conscious. If we experience a head trauma, and temporarily lose consciousness, we do not lose our human rights for the duration of that unconsciousness. The unborn, in the vast, vast majority of circumstances, will become conscious.

                    • But the (obvious) difference is that someone who is briefly unconscious has been conscious before. There is an actual mind and personality there, that will presumably continue when that person regains consciousness. A fetus at 20 weeks has no consciousness, and never has. There is nothing “there” yet.” The fact that there will be if left undeterred is irrelevant–I don’t owe anything to a person who doesn’t exist yet.

                    • But the potential for thought is there, and important. You’re discounting it, and you need to in order for your argument to function, but so much around us functions on reasonable potential outcomes. Banks will lend farmers millions of dollars against crops they haven’t even put in the ground yet because everyone knows that when you put seeds in the ground and water them, they usually grow.

                • The difference between home construction, and fetal development is the requirement for action. The house requires someone to build it, the fetus develops on it’s own. The house requires action to be built, the fetus requires action to stop it.

                  An argument could be made that the fetus requires the environment of it’s mother to survive… But that would logically refuse personhood to all humans, we need oxygen to survive. Environmental requirements shouldn’t designate whether something is alive.

                  • That’s all true, of course, but it doesn’t help us address the underlying ethical problem. I’d argue that if a person needed to be actively constructed, there would be a point at which it would be unethical to stop if there were no comparable value interfering with continuing. Actually, people do need to be actively constructed. That’s what education is. And I consider it unethical, as a society to fail to provide a person with a good education.

                    Speaking of developing on its own, would you care to take a stab at my time-delay zygote machine? I’d appreciate your take on it.

                    • It’s an interesting construct. I don’t think that every sperm is sacred, or that every period is a dead child. The moment of conception is where something fundamentally profound happens. Bits of genetic material from two distinct people join together to form a new person, with a distinct DNA sequence. I feel that the point of conception is a less arbitrary starting point for life because before conception, that DNA sequence did not exist, so for the purposes of your gamete joiner, preventing those cells from combining is murder in only the most philosophical of ways. I wouldn’t see it that way.

                  • “The house requires someone to build it, the fetus develops on it’s own.”

                    This is a “woman? what woman?” argument. Of course the fetus doesn’t “develop on its own”–if it did, there would be no debate!

                    “An argument could be made that the fetus requires the environment of it’s mother to survive… But that would logically refuse personhood to all humans, we need oxygen to survive. Environmental requirements shouldn’t designate whether something is alive.”

                    Embarassingly bad argument. A mother is not just an “environmental requirement,” like oxygen–she’s a person. Oxygen isn’t. How is this any better than the arguments Jack often criticizes, in which as abortion advocate pretend that the fetus doesn’t exist?

                    • I’m trying to figure out if you have a reading comprehension problem, or are just so partisan that the information that doesn’t support your argument gets caught in some kind of filter. I’ve written thousands of words on this, and have been very clear that I respect the personal autonomy of mothers who choose to have an abortion, even as I condemn them in the strongest of terms. The reason that I didn’t write from that perspective in this comment, specifically, is because this comment, specifically, was in response to a question. The question was to the difference between stages of home construction and gestation. You can’t build a baby from spare parts with a hammer and believe it or not, you can’t build a house by eating pickles and ice cream. The most fundamental difference is in the tense of action required to start or stop the project or pregnancy.

  6. No one is objecting to the statement that ” 95 percent of women who have had an abortion say that it was the right decision for them, and even among those who expressed some regret, 89 percent state that having the abortion was still the right decision.” This is based on the study by the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at UC San Francisco’s School of Medicine as published in the journal PLOS ONE and reported in Time magazine and elsewhere. Personally, my experience with women that have had abortions, while hardly large enough to be a statistically significant sample, made me suspicious. A quick review showed criticisms of the study that, if true, I would find to very nearly totally discredit it. I know how hard it it is to conduct a study like this. Since women who regret an abortion are much less likely to talk about it or be willing to be a participant in a study, the very question you are studying is likely to cause a distortion in the study. If what you are trying to do is not discover truth, but advance an agenda, this doesn’t matter to you and you will publish anyway.

  7. Abortion is not a noble act of population control, but procreating is not a moral imperative for the species, as you made it out to be with your statement that if we are alive we should reciprocate and reproduce ourselves. The world would do better with less procreation. We are not endangered, we are overpopulated. Certainly it would be far more noble to forego reproduction and tend to some of the already born.

    I don’t think abortion is used as casual birth control. It is far more hassle and pain than taking a daily pill, a patch or an implant, or even using a condom.

    Shaming as a deterrent? Why not sew a letter A to her shirts or put her in the stocks in the public square? Why is there not a way to “shame” the men?

    As far as consequences go, considering that young moms tend to have more children right away rather than “learning their lesson” and avoiding further unplanned pregnancy does not bear out your theory. Unfortunately the burden of caring for these children (and their mothers) often falls to the grandparents or other relatives….or the state.

    Regardless of what you or I think or anyone else, it remains up to the woman (and preferably the father as well) to choose what is best in their own unique situation. We don’t all have the same background, values, education, opportunity, and lives. It is not up to you to dictate what a woman feels after an abortion. If you believe that life begins at conception, that is your right. But even neuroscientists don’t agree at what point a fetus becomes a person. I think it is a question for philosophers more than scientists.

    We all come from a colored perspective. You as an adoptive parent, looking for an infant and having problems finding one that fit your requirements in this country and I as a foster parent and a CASA for children in the foster care system as well as a parent to biological children. My step-daughter became pregnant at 15. She lived with her mom & step-dad and was afraid to come to them, so asked me to take her for testing. We did. At first she wanted to schedule and abortion, but changed her mind and decided to keep her daughter (now 17). While in my heart I hoped she would choose to abort, I kept those views to myself and supported whatever her decision was.

    And so, if someone wants to cast off the mantle of shame for having an abortion and own it, let them. Don’t impose your opinions on how a woman should feel about having had an abortion. They can be proud, sad, relieved, regretful, happy…..and at times maybe all of those things.

    • Nothing valid yet.

      1. Don’t put words in my mouth: that will get you banned. I did not say there was any imperative to procreate at all. I said that it is hypocritical to cheer your success after having an abortion, and not recognize your mother’s role in NOT having one.

      2. So as long as it’s not casual, it’s fine as birth control.

      3. Shame is a deterrent and an important means of social control. People who never feel shame are sociopaths. Shame is essential to learning the difference between right and wrong.

      4. No doubt about it, raising children is hard. If you’re not up to it, don’t have them. Killing them for convenience is not an ethical first option.

      5. “It remains up to the woman (and preferably the father as well) to choose what is best in their own unique situation.” Hmm, what part of the equation is missing here? See, when that choice involves another human being’s existence, it by necessity involves more than the woman. It requires balancing of rights and interests.

      6. “We all come from a colored perspective. You as an adoptive parent, looking for an infant and having problems finding one that fit your requirements in this country and I as a foster parent and a CASA for children in the foster care system as well as a parent to biological children. My step-daughter became pregnant at 15. She lived with her mom & step-dad and was afraid to come to them, so asked me to take her for testing. We did. At first she wanted to schedule and abortion, but changed her mind and decided to keep her daughter (now 17). While in my heart I hoped she would choose to abort, I kept those views to myself and supported whatever her decision was.”

      None of which has anything to do with ethics of abortion, or my analysis of it.

    • “Shaming as a deterrent? Why not sew a letter A to her shirts or put her in the stocks in the public square? Why is there not a way to “shame” the men?”

      Because as we’re so very often told, men get no say in it, and it’s none of their business. At the end of the day, women are the gatekeepers to sex. They choose whether or not to have sex, they choose whether or not to use protection, and they choose whether or not to have an abortion. Any deviance to the process of those choices is usually met with criminal charges, and that’s OK, because at the end of the day it is the woman, and not the man who becomes pregnant. But those choices come with unique responsibilities that women need to own. You don’t get to have control over every facet of the situation and then complain about owning the responsibility for it. Anyone who tries to duck responsibility like this needs to be put into time out until they grow up a little.

        • No Beth. No. You’re too smart for that.

          If no one can make that decision except the mother, no one bears the responsibility except her.

          Men cannot own any part of an abortion because they cannot choose to have one or stop one from happening. This would be like someone suggesting that if a woman does not want an abortion they can preemptively take a pill.

          • You said, “They choose whether or not to have sex, they choose whether or not to use protection…”

            My response is — BS. The man has equal responsibility in deciding birth control. The best and safest method is a condom — or surgery. The pill only works when taken every day — whether or not you are having sex. A lot of women screw that up and taking the pill has nasty side effects for a large percentage of women and is not necessarily safe to take long term.

            Other than those who have a latex allergy, there are no side effects to the condom. Plus, it prevents STDs too. Win/win.

            • I was sorely tempted to feed your post through the gibberish generator and feed it back to you. What’s your point? That because he had sex he somehow bears responsibility for her decision to have an abortion, whether he wants her to have it or not, whether he would raise the kid or not? That’s sick, Beth.

              He bears a burden for the pregnancy, and so if she chooses to have the child, he’s responsible for it’s upbringing or child support. But if she decides to have an abortion, that’s on her. 100%

              And that’s the way it should be, right? Women should have control of their bodies, right? And we’re responsible for decisions we make, right?

              I mean… What the hell is your point?

                • Sure. But irrelevant. Only women are responsible for killing it. It’s funny… but if this were a slightly different situation, I’d say you were victim blaming.

                  “Don’t tell women to be aware of their personal safety, tell men not to rape!” Well… Of course men shouldn’t rape, but there are things women could do to make themselves safe, and if they did them, we might not be having this discussion.

                  “Don’t tell men not to have unprotected sex. Tell women not to kill their kids!” Well… Of course women shouldn’t kill their kids, but maybe if the men wrapped up, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

                  I think you’re being inconsistent here. Yes, it would have been better if he had wrapped up, and yes, it would have been better if she had exercised common sense. But those don’t take away from the fact that no one is responsible for the rape but the rapist, and no one is responsible for the abortion but the mother.

                • And for the record: Why the hell are you trying to give responsibility for part of the abortion to the father? If you make him partially responsible for the action, it logically follows that he’d have more input into the choice. You’re in essence arguing against Roe v. Wade because you’re too stubborn to admit that a woman can be responsible for her own damned choices.

                    • Uh huh. Brilliant. Then please, perhaps using very small words so I can follow. In the context of abortions. Why do you think that the father is responsible for the abortion, when he has no control over whether or not it will happen.

                      Specifically juxtapose if with my rape example. How do you hold a man responsible for the abortion that he has no control over, even if he contributed to the situation in which it happens, but not hold a woman responsible for a rape, even if she contributes to the situation in which it happens?

                      If you cannot do this, perhaps your position needs rethinking.

                  • “If you make him partially responsible for the action, it logically follows that he’d have more input into the choice.”

                    No, it really doesn’t. I have an obligation to try my best not to put a fetus in someone if they don’t want it there. Once I do that, though, what to do with that is the choice of the person whose body the fetus is inside.

                    • Thanks… I needed that laugh. Ah. I had this mental picture of someone cramming a fetus inside someone strapped to a chair… Said person had an oiled mustache and a fedora, so we could tell he was sufficiently bad.

                      Even assuming that obligation exists (and for the record, we disagree, and you have a very disturbing habit of turning women into mindless mannequins to make your points.), if doesn’t change my assertion. In fact, you reinforced it: The decision to have an abortion is 100% the decision of the woman having it, and therefore the responsibility for making that decision rests with her, regardless of any contributing factors.

                      If instead of having an abortion, she gave it up for adoption, or raised it on her own, if he has no input into those choices, he is not responsible for them. His responsibility for his part in the creation of that life lie in the care he gives, or the child support he owes.

  8. In section 3, Mac Avoy writes:
    “Like me, 95 percent of women who have had an abortion say that it was the right decision for them, and even among those who expressed some regret, 89 percent state that having the abortion was still the right decision….”

    This is a seriously misleading statistic, to the point of being downright stupid. “Most people who made a decision think that it was the right decision.” is no better than saying “Most people agree with THEMSELVES.”

    Of course they do.

    I’m sure the stats for women who decided NOT to have an abortion and later said it was the right decision for them is just as high.

    …as are the stats for people who chose to have pizza for lunch instead of a burger.
    …as are the stats for people who bought an iPhone instead of an Android phone.
    …as are the stats for people who voted for (name any candidate) instead of (name any other candidate).

    I could go on for years….

    –Dwayne

  9. As foolish as it may be, I will enter the fray. I am not arguing in favor of or in opposition to abortion. My argument only addresses the “life begins at conception” argument and whether it is a sufficient premise for an anti-abortion (or any) conclusion. I don’t have an argument for when life begins, nor do I believe it is a settled question. I am merely arguing that the “life at conception” argument is an insufficient premise on which to rest a conclusion that abortion is always (or nearly always) evil, bad, immoral, unethical, or wrong.

    If we are to use “life begins at conception” as a premise, we must have clear and settled definitions for “life” and “conception”. In this context, conception can be neatly limited to when a male gamete (sperm) and female gamete (egg) unite to form a zygote (embryo). A settled definition of life is much trickier. For starters, we can’t say that life is what happens when a zygote is formed. If we did, we’d be saying no more than “life begins at life” or “conception begins at conception”, both of which are meaningless (or at least unhelpful) tautology.

    Life is a peculiar thing about which we know surprisingly little. We know that we like it, and we know that it is somehow special. However, we do not know what it is, nor can we be certain when it begins and when it ends (or if it does either). Getting more metaphysical, we do not know whether we are sharing in a singular life with all other living things, whether we are sharing in a mere snippet of a singular grand life, whether there are multiple larger lives of which we only experience some portion of one or a few, whether we each enjoy our own individual and distinct life (each with its own beginning and end), or whether life has characteristics not even considered in the foregoing options. Life may be an entity that exists and continues with or without us. The existence of any particular human being may have no impact at all on the thing we call life. We should be in awe. Life is a mystery that may never be solved. While in awe, we should be skeptical of any argument based on an awe-inspiring mystery. In short, the first problem with the premise is that we do not know what life is.

    We know much more about conception. Conception happens when sperm unites with egg. However, there is no evidence of when or if a third entity called life magically appears and enters the zygote to make it a living thing. Conception cannot occur unless a living sperm unites with a living egg. If the sperm, egg, or both are dead, no conception occurs. Both sperm and egg are already human life with the potential of becoming (at least part of) an individual, living person. In other words, the entity called life exists prior to conception – it is not something that begins with conception. Rather, it is something that must exist prior if conception is to occur. In other words, the line of when life begins cannot be clearly drawn at conception. The life, the DNA, and the potential exist prior to conception. If we are convinced this life must be preserved, we must ensure there is no masturbation or birth control and that every living cell, every sperm and every egg, has the opportunity to become a full person. If we’re not willing to do this, we risk joining a legion of hypocrites.

    Of course, all of this may be dismissed by saying we are only interested in particular lives, not life in general. We are only interested in the particular life that can occur when a particular sperm unites with a particular egg, creating a unique potential in the form of multiplying cells that may someday become a unique person. And, as has been discussed, that life may end up being the next Gandhi or the next Hitler, but more likely the next normal and generally good person in her community. What remains is that we really don’t know. Moving from the particular to the general is dangerous business when we don’t know all of the particulars.

    In response to the existence of life, we may say the unique mass of multiplying cells “deserves” the opportunity to grow and fulfill its potential – to live or die on its own terms. Who are we to deny that opportunity? Yet, deservedness is based on past behavior. The embryo or fetus has done nothing to deserve life or anything else on this planet. For the same reason, the embryo or fetus has done nothing to deserve extermination. We cannot truthfully say a fetus deserves to be aborted. We need to find a word other than “deserves” to explain what we mean when using it in these contexts.

    The “life begins at conception” argument relies on another premise, usually suppressed or hidden. Life must be valuable if the argument is to hold any weight. However, doubling down with the “life is sacred/precious/God-given” claim, or the “right to life” claim, only embroils us in more hypocrisy. We very often engage in killing for comfort (swatting flies and mosquitoes), convenience (killing vegetation to make roads), sustenance (killing vegetables and animals for food), safety (killing predatory critters), health (killing viruses, bacteria, and fungi), and even to satisfy our sense of justice (self-defense and the death penalty). How can we claim sacredness of life or a right to life when we so often intentionally extinguish life in other organisms? When confronted with our hypocrisy, we avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance by quickly qualifying and limiting our discussion to human life, excluding all other organisms. How can we justify this qualification? Naturally, we are anthropocentric, but this is not much of an argument. Cases in which fellow humans are involved (e.g., death penalty cases) prompt us to qualify our “life is sacred” and “right to life” stances in still other ways. Obviously, life is not the only consideration.

    We move rather quickly to a position from which we apply differing levels of value to life depending on the type of organism in question and on specific details about the individual organism in question. We find that life alone is not the only issue at stake, and we must turn to finding other criteria by which we can value differing lives differently. Among these are sentience, reliance, mobility, viability, potential, legality, consciousness, personhood, reason, and will. Eventually, we find that life itself was never the main issue at all – it simply happens to be present amongst all the other criteria by which we judge value. Further, life has a special ability to make some questions moot with its absence. The preservation of life itself is not a sufficient argument against abortion. Likewise, preservation of the species is not a sufficient argument against abortion (we passed that point a few billion humans ago). We need more. Given our inability to determine when life begins, as well as the realization that criteria beyond life must always be considered, the abortion issue is unlikely to be solved…and certainly can’t be solved by simply saying life begins at conception.

    [As an aside, I hate the polarizing rhetoric surrounding the abortion issue. Abortion is icky. None of us likes abortion. With the exception of a few profit-driven and thoroughly unethical idiots, none of us are pro-abortion. All of us are pro-life (the others of us committed suicide). Some of us are pro-choice, believing that the actual interests of actually conscious, reasonable, and willful persons supersede the imagined choices and interests of those that are not yet (and may never be) sentient, viable, conscious, reasonable, or willful persons. The rest of us are pro-choice as well, yet believe we need to be much more responsible with our choices and recognize that future choice is necessarily limited by the consequences of past choices – especially if one of those consequences is conception (whether negligent or intentional). Such a consequence brings a third party (the embryo or fetus) into consideration. There are always consequences to our behavior, so we should always choose and act carefully.]

    • My biology teacher in college, Nobel Prize winner George Wald, said that either life began at conception or birth, and any point in between was arbitrary. I agree with that. Either choice creates ethical conflicts, but clearly, I think, the latter (which was Wald’s choice) creates more.

      I don’t think, by the way, that agreeing that life starts at conception requires banning abortion at that stage. I just think it’s silly to argue against the obvious.

    • Regarding the issue of the definition of “life”, I consider it unwise to define things solely by example rather than functionally, because the policy of “I’ll know it when I see it” doesn’t work when everyone sees something different (which is nearly always). As for the value of life, there is no reason to take the value of life for granted if we’re perfectly capable of coming up with actual justification for it, which many people (including myself) have done.

      I applaud you, Otto, for calling into question the definition and value of life, and doing a superb job of deconstructing the typical arbitrary and absolutist answers. Only by investigating the philosophical questions of what life is and why we value it can we approach any form of consensus.

      This looks like a Comment of the Day for my money, because it has the ability to move the discussion forward by taking the question deeper and pointing out the hidden contradictions in how many people view the issue. Whether anyone takes advantage of that is another matter.

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