Ethics Alarms To NYT Columnist Ross Douthat: “Exactly!” (Corrected)

Abortion monument

I’m still working on the Ethics Alarms prescription for an ethical national policy regarding abortion. The briefs and oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case now before the U.S. Supreme Court are useful, but I received a special assist this morning from Times columnist Ross Douthat, who presented a full page, marvelously thorough and ethically spot-on analysis of the issue in an essay titled, “The Case Against Abortion.”

I wish I had written it, but I am grateful that he did. He deserves to have it read thoroughly by all, but some especially apt sections shout out for special mention:

  • “At the core of our legal system, you will find a promise that human beings should be protected from lethal violence. That promise is made in different ways by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; it’s there in English common law, the Ten Commandments and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We dispute how the promise should be enforced, what penalties should be involved if it is broken and what crimes might deprive someone of the right to life. But the existence of the basic right, and a fundamental duty not to kill, is pretty close to bedrock.

    “There is no way to seriously deny that abortion is a form of killing.”

    And that must be the starting point for any policy debate.

  • “This means that the affirmative case for abortion rights is inherently exceptionalist, demanding a suspension of a principle that prevails in practically every other case. This does not automatically tell against it; exceptions as well as rules are part of law. But it means that there is a burden of proof on the pro-choice side to explain why in this case taking another human life is acceptable, indeed a protected right itself.”

As Ethics Alarms has mentioned repeatedly, the pro-abortion movement refuses to discuss the issue on this basis, or even acknowledge that a human life is involved other than that of the mother.

  • “At its most rigorous, the organism-but-not-person argument seeks to identify some stage of neurological development that supposedly marks personhood’s arrival — a transition equivalent in reverse to brain death at the end of life. But even setting aside the practical difficulties involved in identifying this point, we draw a legal line at brain death because it’s understood to be irreversible, the moment at which the human organism’s healthy function can never be restored. This is obviously not the case for an embryo on the cusp of higher brain functioning — and if you knew that a brain-dead but otherwise physically healthy person would spontaneously regain consciousness in two weeks, everyone would understand that the caregivers had an obligation to let those processes play out.”

What Douthat does not explore is what marks this and other tortured denials of the unborn’s humanity as intellectually dishonest: they have all been developed to reach a predetermined objective: justifying abortion.

  • “Is it really necessary to found equality for one group of human beings on legal violence toward another, entirely voiceless group?’

Good question, which is why pro-abortion advocates refuse to consider it, because they know once abortion is conceded to be “violence toward another, entirely voiceless group,” it becomes ethically untenable.

He concludes his essay this way:

  • “It’s not a model I would ever cite for pro-life legislation….But…According to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, who surveyed the facilities that provide about 93 percent of all abortions in the state, there were 2,149 fewer legal abortions in Texas in the month the law went into effect than in the same month in 2020. About half that number may end up still taking place, some estimates suggest, many of them in other states. But that still means that in a matter of months, more than a thousand human beings will exist as legal persons, rights-bearing Texans — despite still being helpless, unreasoning and utterly dependent — who would not have existed had this law not given them protection.

    “But, in fact, they exist already. They existed, at our mercy, all along.”

15 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms To NYT Columnist Ross Douthat: “Exactly!” (Corrected)

  1. I wonder whether the rationale underlying a unassailable abortion rights position is the equivalent of the aggressively disciplinarian line Bill Cosby humorously attributed to his father: “I brought you into this world. I can take you out!” Maybe the argument is the fetus is just an organism the woman’s organisms spontaneously created and therefore it can be terminated by the woman who owns those organisms. This would kind of explain the annoying pussy hats and “It’s my uterus” and “keep your hands off my body” signs. There has to be some way the abortion rights advocates square the circle.

  2. “As Ethics Alarms has mentioned repeatedly, the pro-abortion movemnet refuses to discuss the issue on this basis, or even acknowledge that a human life is involved other than that of the mother.”

    I’m currently going through a thing on Twitter, and I can think of a better example of it than this.

    LK: “Just because they call it “pro-life” doesn’t mean it actually is. No cause that risks a 33% increase in pregnancy-related deaths among Black women actually cares about all life. ”

    HT: “There were 630,000 Abortions performed in America in 2019. The Maternal mortality rate was 20 deaths per 100,000 births. We can have values discussions on the topic, but there is nothing inconsistent with “pro life” in choosing to save 630,000 lives while risking 126.”

    LK: “Thanks for proving my point. You think some lives matter and others don’t. And the lives you’re throwing away happen to be Black women, in favor of 630,000 fetus goop balls pre 13 weeks gestation. Which may or may not be viable births. Values? You can’t manage logic.”

    HT: “Well… Sure… But so do you. You just referred to 630,000 unborn people as “goop balls”. You were also once a goop ball. There is no situation where you save all the lives here. If “pro life” means not making a decision that costs any life, a pro life position is impossible. But no one thinks of “pro life” that way. It’s a weird counter to an argument that no one made.”

    There’s so much wrong in this… And I can’t think of a better example of a complete narrative disconnect. Liana apparently cares about the lives of black women while never considering that the number of black women killed by the abortions are orders of magnitude larger. But she doesn’t think of the unborn as people. Sure, the lives we’re talking about have different value. And sure, the mother’s life take precedence. But that doesn’t make the unborn a non entity, they still have value.

    No one is confused by this. A couple of years back the pro-choice lobby thought they had a “problem pro-lifers can’t deal with” (Spoiler alert: we could deal with it). The problem was a burning fertility clinic. You’re in a hallway: there are two rooms. In one: a crying 5 year old boy. In the other: a cooler with 100 fertilized eggs. Who. Do. You. Save? (Dun dun duuuuuuun).

    You save the boy. Every single time. It’s not hard. Because unlike the Pro-Choice lobby, the Sith and the Jedi, the Pro-life lobby does not treat life in absolute terms. The choice isn’t between “life” and “rock”. Both the boy and the fertilized eggs are alive. They both have value, but they’re different, and we accept that. If you could save both, you would, if you could save neither, it would be a tragedy, if you can only save one, it’s still a tragedy, but because you have to save one you make a choice. It’s a trolley car rhetorical (And go figure: Progressives discovered trolley car exercises in 2019 and thought they invented reason.).

    Wheel that into this argument… It’s not one boy against 100 fertilized eggs… It’s 630,000 pregnancies of various viability vs. approximately 126 mothers who might die as a complication of childbirth. Honestly… I think this call is harder…. And I’m not sure that I know the answer. Not only are pregnancies more viable than fertilized eggs in a cooler, but we’re talking about orders and orders of magnitude in difference: 630,000 is basically twice the annual death rate from Covid… 126 is less than one-twentieth the number of infant who die from SIDS every year. It’s tough. And it sure as hell is something for someone to criticize me with “You think that some lives matter and others don’t” to go on to say “630,000 fetus goop balls” in the next sentence.

    • So this is all about Black women? I didn’t know that. Black babies are the only babies being aborted? Good to know. On demand abortion is essential to reducing the number of Black kids? Isn’t that racist? Weird.

    • Even more complicated than the first order analysis. That assumes that no mother is harmed in any of the 630,000 abortions. It also does not take into account any remorse over the abortions, which will result in some level of trauma, even potentially suicides.

      Do those numbers add up to 126? No way to know (although the adverse outcomes to abortions should be knowable). Are they more than 126? No way to know for sure. Either way, it makes the argument even more tenuous for LK. But apparently for her, some lives matter more than others (even before we get to the 630,000 potential lives).

      • It’s all hypothetical. Because she’s working off the idea that unwanted fetuses carry as much agency as potatoes, a single potential death is too much. What might be more interesting would be to ask what the number is that changes the math for you or me… 1000? 10,000? 100,000? There would obviously be a tipping point, I’m not sure what it is.

    • Great comment: COTD.

      Right up through 1900, the mortality rate of women in childbirth was about 20% in the US and Great Britain. By that idiot’s logic, the humane thong would be to abort ALL “goopballs.”

      • Don’t tempt them. I’m sure some of them would be okay with aborting every new pregnancy. Good for the environment, after all.

    • Just one thing to note here: Pre 13 weeks is not a goop ball. One of the things that SHOULD have come out of the Veritas Planned Parenthood video is this: Why are people comfortable claiming that something which has identifiable and useable organs is nothing more than a mass of cells with no other value? It’s like the disconnect between “Just a mass of cells” and “let’s use it’s organs for research” doesn’t even compute…

      • I can answer that, but I’m not defending, just explaining.

        People see first trimester as a clump of cells because it’s a bad idea to get too attached to it as a person.

        Most women don’t know they’re pregnant until at least 4 weeks (when they miss a period), and a good handful may not check/believe it until 8 weeks. It can’t be felt at that point, and outside of medical monitoring there’s no way to be sure it’s there. At least 25% of percent of pregnancies miscarry naturally during the first trimester. If they do, there’s very, very little that can be done about it from a medical perspective. Many traditions/schools of etiquette direct you to not tell anyone you’re pregnant until around 12 weeks for this reason. So usually the incredibly common occurrence of early miscarriage will be dealt with privately, and unless it’s part of a larger medical emergency or a pattern of fertility problems, we hardly expect people to grieve about it. (Literally no place I’ve worked has offered bereavement for a miscarriage, and if they did there’s no way it would come close to “death of an immediate family member.”)

        So, whether it’s a person or clump of goop, society tends to treat it with all the honor and interest of a goldfish up until 12 weeks.

        (After 12 weeks is totally different; miscarriages are more rare and usually take place in a hospital, with every effort to save the baby; people talk about names, have showers, start making plans… I’ve had friends who miscarried around six months, and it can be traumatic, because they and everyone around them had been treating it as a child.)

        So, whatever you think of it, that’s the root of the reason for it.

        • That makes a great deal of sense as an explanation of why. It still is inaccurate to call it a ‘ball of goop’ and a 75% survival rate doesn’t magically make it have no value, but the desire to attach little value to it is comprehensible. It might be why the international average cutoff for on demand abortion is about 12 weeks (according to wikipedia and I didn’t bother chasing the source, so pinch of salt please).

          • “the international average cutoff for on demand abortion is about 12 weeks”

            Is that right? Then why isn’t the Left demanding that the United States follow the crowd, like they do in issues like capital punishment, gun control and universal health care?

  3. Find someone who will debate you about abortion, and ask the person what the moral status of the fetus is. Don’t move on until you get an answer. Most pro-choicers aren’t honest enough to follow the logic all the way through like Peter Singer does. It becomes an emotional position.

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