This is Labor Day, after all…
Eventually it is irresponsible and cowardly to criticize all of the rhetoric regarding abortion and not make a serious proposal. I feel like I’ve reached that point.
Let’s start with what we have to work with.
I have not labored to put these in order of priority or importance, and many constitute “but on the other hand” reflexes upon considering the previous point. I’ll bold the items that seem particularly important as I post them. I am certain that I will miss some or many points that need to be considered as well.
1. Abortion involves two human lives, not one.
2. Women’s functional and evolutionary role is and has been to continue the species by bearing children.
3. That was sufficient from a biological and anthropological standpoint, but as civilization developed, this role interfered significantly with the ability of women to participate equally in society to the degree that they might wish, and to engage in life choices that men, not so burdened by childbearing and child rearing by anatomy and tradition, take for granted.
4. This gender divide violates the “inalienable rights” adopted by The Founders as the bedrock of the American experiment, culture, society and ethos.
5. However, life is unfair, and rubbing out innocent lives in order to make it superficially more fair is unethical as well as hypocritical.
6. Sexual intercourse is only necessary in order to create new human beings.
7. The act of sex is still a significant aspect of “the pursuit of happiness” for most men and women.
8. No one has an ethical obligation to have offspring.
9. Not being obligated to create life does not imply a right to end a life one did not choose to create.
10. Pregnancy and child-rearing can be and often is a serious obstacle to women’s ability to determine their own course in life, to achieve their aspirational goals, and to participate equally in society according to their talents, ambitions, and determination.
11. Overcoming that undeniable and significant problem does not change or repeal the Categorical Imperative, which holds that it is unethical for anyone to use another human being without that human being’s consent to accomplish a personal objective, no matter how legitimate or virtuous.
12. The Categorical Imperative is an Absolutist principle. All rules, principles and laws have exceptions, however. That is the problem with Absolutism.
13. An innocent human being has a right to exist, and, therefore, to live.
14. No individual has a superior right to end another human being’s life, except in societally approved situations (self-defense) that comport with principles of justice as defined by law.
15. Arguments that a mother can “defend herself” against her unborn child when a pregnancy does not truly place a woman’s life at risk are contrived and illegitimate.
16. Under basic American principles and rights as articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the government does not have the power or right to force a woman to become pregnant, prevent her from becoming pregnant, have sexual intercourse or not have sexual intercourse.
17. It follows, then, that the government should not have the power or right to force a woman to bear a child to term and give birth, except..
18. The government does have the power and right, and indeed the obligation, to protect the lives of human beings within its jurisdiction.
19. An unborn child is such a human being.
20. 17-19 define an ethics conflict. Ethics conflicts can only be resolved by accepting that a solution will violate one or more ethical principles.
21. Not solving such an ethics conflict also violates one or more ethical principles. Thus the abortion problem as it stands constitutes Ethics Zugzwang, the state in which every choice is unethical, and making no choice is impossible.
22. Solutions that are constructed by ignoring the factors that make abortion an ethics conflict are intellectually dishonest and unethical.
23. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are both intellectually dishonest and unethical.
24. Human life begins at conception.
The best teacher I ever had, and I had many excellent ones, was Nobel Prize recipient George Wald, who taught a wide-ranging biology survey course that I took in my Freshman year in college. Wald was a lock-step liberal, but he didn’t shy away from tough issues. He admitted, in one typical stream-of-consciousness lecture, that he didn’t have a definitive answer for the abortion problem (this was before Roe v. Wade), but he said that it had to involve deciding when a human life began. Logically, he said, there are only two choices: it is a human life when it is conceived, or it is a human life when it is born. Every other standard, he said, was necessarily arbitrary and had no integrity. Artificial lengths of time were unscientifically arbitrary made no sense, he said: a fetus was not human one second and suddenly human the next? So, Prof. Wald said, between two extremes, either as valid as the other but one triggering unpalatable legal consequences, he chose birth as the dividing line between human and not human. This prompted applause from many in the large class of over 500. It did not seem right to me then instinctively, at a time when I hadn’t given abortion much thought, and seems more misguided now that I have.
A baby that is born at term could also have been born earlier just as successfully; this triggers the arbitrariness factor that Wald said made other benchmarks illegitimate. Furthermore, there is no logical reason to argue that a child a hour from being born is any less human than the same child after being born. This fact is what led Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer to note that if it should be ethically and legally justifiable to abort a viable fetus, there is no ethical reason not to permit the killing of the same child after its birth. However, accepting the other of Wald’s two extremes requires no such hypocrisy. Before conception, there is no human life. After conception, there is.
25. “Viability” restrictions, as used in laws and court opinions, are intellectually dishonest and therefor unethical. If an organism is developing naturally and will progress normally to birth and eventually adulthood absent outside interference to deny that natural development, it is viable enough to be regarded as the human life it is. A newborn baby isn’t “viable” in the sense that it can survive absent intense and lengthy care by others. If something is going to grow and live if you don’t kill it, you can’t claim it wasn’t really a life when you do.
I’m happy to add to the list. Meanwhile, I’ll be using these in Part 2 later today, as I try to find as ethical a solution as possible to this ethics conflict.