When is it ok to legalize murder?


One of the differences between the Obama/Biden campaign and the Romney/Ryan campaign came out during the VP debates. Biden said he was a faithful Catholic and believed his church’s teaching on abortion (in the true spirit of faith as “believing what you know ain’t so”), but he wasn’t willing to impose his religious beliefs on others (and rightly so). Ryan, on the other hand, was adamant that abortion was murder and should be immediately outlawed, except in cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. And that’s a very interesting set of exceptions.

Ok, the last of those three exceptions may not be so interesting. It makes sense that where there’s a medical emergency that endangers both the mother and the unformed child, you don’t sacrifice the one with the best chance of survival in order to save the one with the greatest risk of dying anyway. But what about those other two exceptions?

Paul Ryan says he believes that abortion is murder. Life begins at conception, and anyone who ends that life is a murderer. But that means that if a child is conceived through rape or incest, his or her life also begins at conception, which means ending that life is also murder. By agreeing that abortion is ok in the cases of rape or incest, Ryan is effectively saying that sometimes it’s ok to legalize murder.

If a child is conceived through rape, and the woman decides not to abort, and a few years later someone deliberately kills the kid, you wouldn’t say, “Well, that’s not murder because the child was originally conceived by rape.” We all know that at some point it does become murder to kill a child, even if the child was conceived through rape and/or incest. Pro-lifers like Ryan put that point at conception, and therefore any pro-lifer who supports legal abortion in the case of rape or incest is necessarily declaring that they support legalized murder.

The pro-choice position, by contrast, is both more obvious and more self-consistent. The reason abortion is not murder in the case of rape or incest is because it’s not murder even in the case of consensual sex. The unformed child is not yet a person, because the essential attributes that make us persons are attributes that are not yet present. People are different from single-celled organisms, but the fertilized egg, not so much. People are different from primitive organisms, but blastocytes, not a lot. People are different from animals, because we have thoughts and self-awareness and social connections, but zygotes, not quite yet. Gestation prepares the unformed child to eventually become a person, but it isn’t there yet, and so there’s no person to be murdered.

I think most people know that the pro-choice position is the correct one, factually and morally. Abortion isn’t really murder, they just call it murder so they can feel good about punishing women for having sex. If the woman did not wish to have sex, if she was forced to submit to a rapist, then ok, she can have an abortion, but everybody else has to have the baby, and it serves them right for sleeping around. It’s disgustingly sexist and hypocritical prudery, which is why it needs to be justified by the “abortion is murder” meme, but that’s the way some people are. And that’s why you get politicians like Paul Ryan standing up and declaring that abortion is murder, but he’s ok with murdering some kids depending on how they were conceived.

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Semantic problem: in its ordinary sense, ‘murder’ is unlawful killing.

    (Thus do Christians justify their history of killing others (and service in the military) when confronted with the Sixth Commandment)

    • says

      Not just unlawful.

      In its earlier Anglo-Saxon and Germanic history murder wasn’t just willful bumping off, it was bumping off done secretly, and especially bumping off done at night, when, in those days before electric lighting, the poor sap couldn’t see what was coming.
      The relative enormity of night killing (as distinct from, say, afternoon killing which was usually OK in the early Middle Ages) lay in this blindside-ly character.

      “‘Then’ said Arinbjorn: ‘The king should not yield to be urged to this shameful deed. He should not let Egil be killed at night, because killing by night is murder.’”

  2. Bungoton says

    It is always OK to legalize murder for your own convenience. I’m always appalled at people who claim to be pro-life when it comes to a fetus but not an adult. They are happy to kill criminals for a variety of offenses. The point I always make with them is that if murder is wrong then it’s wrong for everyone. Being large and powerful (like a government) does not make it acceptable to commit murder.

    If it is acceptable to end a life because of how it started then they have no foundation to prohibit it for other reasons. The fetus can’t be blamed for how it was conceived.

    The idea that life begins at conception is also without foundation. Life is a continuous process, there is no dead phase in the process of procreation. Eggs and sperm are as alive as the people who produced them.

    • Tracey says

      Additionally, Christian Dominionists like that nutcase currently making news for stoning disobedient children clearly don’t believe in ‘the sanctity of life’.

  3. Lofty says

    One should also ask these morons: if a woman has a miscarriage should she be hauled through the courts for “murdering” a fetus?

    • says

      This is happening right now. http://rt.com/usa/news/women-shuai-pregnant-life/

      So yes, they very much would like to jail woman who get abortions. But they won’t say this aloud. And many of them just haven’t thought it through that far. There is an amusing video on youtube filmed by a person who went up to some anti-choice protesters and asked them, Since abortion is murder, how long should the woman spend in prison? The majority of them are baffled. One super-cray-cray Catholic on Pharyngula told me it ought to be the death penalty, which, if you consider that 1 in 3 women get an abortion at some point in their lives, would be a lot of executions.

      But yeah. Bei Bei Shuai is not the only woman currently in prison for killing her fetus.

      And, guys who are like, “Whoa, I had no idea”? Remember this moment the next time someone mentions privilege to you.

  4. Hunt says

    Extending the point, the question is why do Ryan and others sanction murder (or homicide, or whatever the right word is) for rape or incest victims? I think there are two possibilities. The first is rather inchoate, something along the lines that the rape or incest was itself a moral violation which in some way mitigates the subsequent homicide. This verges on two wrongs make a right, though I don’t at all put it beyond Catholics to embrace this rationale. The second would be to consider the psychological impact on the mother of a rape or incest child who was requires to take a fetus to term. Even though I consider this reason vastly superior to the first one, I doubt Catholics could bring themselves to actually accept it, especially since it opens to door to further relaxation of abortion policy, and they would definitely consider that a slippery slope.

    • Hunt says

      Let me just add one more thing to my own comment here: In the first reason, note the particularly batty line of reasoning that actually places the blame for the rape or incest on the conceived child. The twisted insanity is the prime reason leading me to believe that it’s the one Catholics would run with.

      • Andrew G. says

        For all the ridiculous reasoning I’ve seen from Catholics, I’ve not seen either of those – serious anti-choice Catholics tend to oppose abortion unconditionally, with no exceptions for rape, and even when the life of the mother is at stake they demand the use of some procedure that doesn’t involve intentionally killing the fetus.

        Essentially nothing in Ryan’s politics is actually based on Catholic doctrine, and this point is no exception. The simple fact is that people don’t actually fall into a simple “pro-choice”/”pro-life” dichotomy, and the proportion of people that actually go along with the Catholic no-abortions-ever position is relatively small. Anti-choice politicians (of all sects) therefore claim to support rape and incest exceptions purely as a matter of political pragmatics. (Which also answers the question of how such exceptions are supposed to work in practice: the politicians proposing them do not care. They are there for rhetorical purposes only.)

  5. Nemo says

    It should be noted that Ryan cited an exception for the life of the mother, and not for mere health. That’s because health is explicitly not an exception that Romney/Ryan would support:

    http://www.lifenews.com/2012/08/31/romney-opposes-pro-abortion-health-of-the-mother-exception/

    …at least, not that day. Of course, you can find Romney supporting any position on abortion you like (this was a case of his campaign walking it back when he himself had cited the health exception).

  6. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I don’t understand how a rape exception is supposed to work, in practice. What would be required for the exception to take effect? A conviction of the rapist? A claim by the woman to have been raped? A rape kit? A doctor’s note? How can this be done without either 1. creating a symbolic barrier still leaving almost all women with access to abortion, or 2. making every abortion more late-term than would otherwise be necessary, while screwing over some percentage of women who were raped but couldn’t prove it to the gatekeeper’s satisfaction?

      • Forbidden Snowflake says

        Shocked, I tell you.
        Srsly, a person who believes that 1. abortion is murder, and 2. there should be a rape exception, basically believes that forcing a woman to give birth to her rapist’s baby is worse than murder. The only way to avoid doing this is to grant universal access to abortion – in any other case someone, somewhere, will be falling through the cracks.

  7. NotAnAtheist says

    Gestation prepares the unformed child to eventually become a person, but it isn’t there yet, and so there’s no person to be murdered.

    When does this “becoming a person” happen?

    • says

      The line set by the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade is viability. Specifically, that the state cannot interfere with a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is able to live outside the womb and may — but is not obligated to — interfere with that choice between viability and birth. Once born, the child has all the rights of personhood.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        The line set by the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade is viability. Specifically, that the state cannot interfere with a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is able to live outside the womb and may — but is not obligated to — interfere with that choice between viability and birth. Once born, the child has all the rights of personhood.

        This strikes me as odd. The child that is 1 hr from being born, anatomically, genetically, and in all other senses I know of, is the same child right after birth (If someone knows of some big difference, let me know).

        If there is that similarity, how can it be that the child after birth is a “person”, and the child before is not? Or is it just that the idea of “personhood” has no objective referent and is simply up to the whim of the court?

      • Nepenthe says

        A new born is extremely different physiologically from a fetus 1 hour prepartum. At birth, blood stops flowing through the umbilical cord and the infant begins to breathe. It goes from being entirely dependent on another body to provide the most basic inputs to being an independent physiological entity. Hell, anatomically, fetuses have a wonking big hole in their hearts which closes at birth. For more details go here.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        Having now actually read them, I’m forced to ask.. so ?
        If the “bright line” is just simply dependency, then once anyone is dependent on anyone, or anything else.. do they cease being a person?

      • Nepenthe says

        No, dumbass, the brightline is dependency on a single, specific person, generally called a pregnant woman, not that you give a shit.

    • sawells says

      In practice, very gradually over a period of years. Legally, you have to put a line somewhere, and the only two sharp transitions are conception (obviously too early) and birth, when you get legal personhood. Many legal systems impose arbitrary limits on abortion somewhere between the two, for reasons of tradition/religion/stupidity.

      Ethically, so long as you believe that adult women are people, then you have to grant women the right to decide who lives in their body. It’s getting personhood granted to women that’s the sticking point, not fetuses.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        In practice, very gradually over a period of years. Legally, you have to put a line somewhere, and the only two sharp transitions are conception (obviously too early) and birth, when you get legal personhood.

        Why not other places? Why not 2 months after birth? If the whole idea of personhood after birth is just a legal decision that’s not based on anything scientific… why not put it anywhere?

        Ethically, so long as you believe that adult women are people, then you have to grant women the right to decide who lives in their body.

        Why? If the unborn child is actually a person, and deserving of all the rights of “personhood”, why should we allow an adult woman to kill her child before birth, if she is denied that right after birth?

        If the unborn child isn’t a person, and its only some miracle at birth that makes them a “person”, then why not simply shift the definition of personhood to whatever’s convenient? If its not based on science or reality.. one definition’s as good as another.

      • Forbidden Snowflake says

        Why not other places? Why not 2 months after birth? If the whole idea of personhood after birth is just a legal decision that’s not based on anything scientific… why not put it anywhere?

        Birth is the point at which rights can be given to the child without taking rights away from the mother. This is a clear “not before” limit, and since there is no non-arbitrary “not after” limit after birth, it makes sense to draw the line at birth.

        Why? If the unborn child is actually a person, and deserving of all the rights of “personhood”, why should we allow an adult woman to kill her child before birth, if she is denied that right after birth?

        Because “all the rights of personhood” do not include the right to physically occupy another person’s body and to use it as a life-support system. Not even if the alternative is death.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        Birth is the point at which rights can be given to the child without taking rights away from the mother.
        Why?

        Because “all the rights of personhood” do not include the right to physically occupy another person’s body and to use it as a life-support system.

        Ok. Does “all the rights of personhood” include the right of a woman to kill a person who is using her body in such a fashion? If so, how was this decided?

        Just because you may not have the right to trespass into my house, doesn’t give me the right to bind you to a chair and torture you.

      • Forbidden Snowflake says

        Ok. Does “all the rights of personhood” include the right of a woman to kill a person who is using her body in such a fashion?

        “All the rights of personhood” include the right of a woman to stop such a “person” from using her body in this fashion, even if the “person’s” life depends on it.

        If so, how was this decided?

        Based on the precedents. The law values personal bodily autonomy highly enough to not wave it away even when lives are at stake. That is why blood and bone marrow donations (which are small potatoes compared to pregnancy, as far as danger, duration and discomfort go) are never mandated, and why the personal wishes of even a dead person who chose not do donate hir organs are respected even if those organs could save other patients’ lives.

        Just because you may not have the right to trespass into my house, doesn’t give me the right to bind you to a chair and torture you.

        You have the right to evict me from your home, without concerning yourself with what might happen to me outside. Binding me to a chair and torturing me are not necessary steps for getting me out of your house, so this analogy is invalid and, frankly, ridiculous.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        Based on the precedents. The law values personal bodily autonomy highly enough to not wave it away even when lives are at stake. That is why blood and bone marrow donations (which are small potatoes compared to pregnancy, as far as danger, duration and discomfort go) are never mandated, and why the personal wishes of even a dead person who chose not do donate hir organs are respected even if those organs could save other patients’ lives.

        Both of these cases are different from an abortion. In neither of the above cases does a person’s inaction necessarily result in the death of another. Nobody will die because I didn’t donate blood or bone marrow, they will die (if they die at all) from whatever disease they are suffering from.

        In the case of abortion, you are saying a woman has the right to kill another person who is “using her body” as a life support system. It is one thing to say you don’t have to act, its another thing to give you new actions that you can take.

        You have the right to evict me from your home, without concerning yourself with what might happen to me outside.

        Actually I’m not sure I have that right. I can perhaps, take legal action against you, but if you’re squatting I can’t evict you by force. Even if you aren’t squatting, just plain trepassing, there are limits on what I can do to make you leave.

        Binding me to a chair and torturing me are not necessary steps for getting me out of your house, so this analogy is invalid and, frankly, ridiculous.

        It shows that just because you violated my rights, does not mean I now have any course of action open to me that I wish. Even if you are right that a fetus is somehow “violating” the right of mother, this does not necessarily give the mother the right to pursue any course of action (such as killing the fetus).

      • Forbidden Snowflake says

        It is one thing to say you don’t have to act, its another thing to give you new actions that you can take.

        Seems like a meaningless distinction. Even if I’ve already started donating blood and all that’s left to do is to lay there while it’s being drawn from my vein, I have the right to change my mind and pull the needle out of my arm. Autonomy means both the right not to start and the right to stop before you’re finished; both the right not to have things done to you and the right to do things to yourself.

        Actually I’m not sure I have that right. I can perhaps, take legal action against you, but if you’re squatting I can’t evict you by force.

        That’s because the law understands that invasion of your home and invasion of your body are different levels of assault, and because it’s usually possible to remove someone from your home without killing them. In other words: that’s where the home invasion analogy breaks down.

        It shows that just because you violated my rights, does not mean I now have any course of action open to me that I wish.

        The hell it does. Abortion is necessary to stop the pregnancy. Tying me to a chair and torturing me is not only not necessary to get me out of your house, it’s actually an impediment. Your analogy was emotionally loaded bullshit.

        Even if you are right that a fetus is somehow “violating” the right of mother,

        The fetus does not violate the woman’s rights, busybodies that would deny her abortion services do.

        this does not necessarily give the mother the right to pursue any course of action (such as killing the fetus).

        Since killing the fetus isn’t gratuitous cruelty but an unavoidable outcome of stopping the pregnancy, yes, she does have that right.

      • Nepenthe says

        If the whole idea of personhood after birth is just a legal decision that’s not based on anything scientific… why not put it anywhere?

        Because in the law a brightline is necessary. Take a much less controversial example of a brightline, age of majority. Cognitive development varies from individual to individual and many teenagers may be perfectly capable of handling the responsibilities of legal adulthood. And yet, they have to wait until they’re 18, except in extraordinary circumstances.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        True, a brightline is legally necessary. But if this line is not really based on much of.. well.. anything then right at conception seems just as good as anything else.

      • Nepenthe says

        But if this line is not really based on much of.. well.. anything then right at conception seems just as good as anything else.

        Did you fail to read my explanation of the myriad biological things that happen at birth to distinguish a fetus from a newborn or are you being willfully obtuse?

      • sqlrob says

        Why not other places? Why not 2 months after birth?

        Bible places it at year IIRC (before then, it’s a property crime, not murder)

      • Tracey says

        Wow, all the drama. Since when is an abortion “tying a person to a chair and torturing it”? For cripes’ sake; by 9 weeks (when 90% of abortions are done), the embryo lacks a nervous system and a brain, meaning there’s nothing there to feel pain. The embryo is completely insensate.

    • im says

      My view is that the time is unknown, but it does not happen until the the embryo has developed a brain with established structures that could be capable of subjective experience and of existential desire.

  8. says

    What I find so discordant with the conservative position about “the sacredness of life” is that it seems to end immediately upon birth. If it is wrong to kill a fetus incapable of independent survival, how can it be justifiable to carpet bomb villages with scores of men, women and children? Does it become murder only if one of the women who got killed was pregnant?

    What about killing by way of denying medical coverage? I have heard too many horror stories of poor women without insurance who miscarry for the lack of routine pre-natal care, for lack of basic antibiotics when they get sick, for exposure because they are homeless, and for malnutrition because they simply are unable to get enough nutritious food.

    The so-called “pro life” position is about womb control: nothing more and nothing less.

    • Brian M says

      Good points all*. I have never understood the rape exception. It’s not “the child’s” fault that his “daddy” was a rapist…or dad.

      * except that I would note that “cruise missile liberals” like our very own Hope N’ Change are very fond of drone strikes on villages as well.

      • NotAnAtheist says

        I would question if those who hold to the “rape” exception hold to it for any moral reasons, or rather if its just political.

      • Brian M says

        Exactly, because forcing a woman to carry to term a rapist’s child would create political difficulties for your position.

      • im says

        I can think of one non-horrible reason for the rape exception, although I don’t know whether they are acting because of this reason, and it is a bit victim-blamey.

        If you have consensual sex, you (hopefully) did it accepting some risk of pregnacy. If you were absolutely dead set against any and all risk of pregnancy you could be celibate.

        Rape victims did not have even that last unacceptable choice.

        Many people (including me) consider bad outcomes that one had a chance to avert knowing the risks to be not quite as bad as the fully unpredictable and unavoidable. Still, it does seem to be a bit slut-shamey or victim-blamey, but it’s not totally stupid.

  9. Mark says

    I think most people know that the pro-choice position is the correct one, factually and morally. Abortion isn’t really murder, they just call it murder so they can feel good about punishing women for having sex.

    Most of my family would describe themselves as pro-life. I don’t think they call abortion murder so they can feel good about punishing women for having sex. They call it murder because they sincerely believe that zygotes are human beings worthy of protection. They believe in the soul, and that it is somehow injected into the zygote the instant it becomes one.

    I don’t think they are right about this, but they are definitely not about punishing women. In fact, one family member scoffs at pro-life picketers for some of the very reasons mentioned here – these people “care” about unborn babies, but don’t give a shit about starving children.

    So I don’t think one can just blanket-statement anti-abortionists like this.

    Now, as far as I am concerned, I am pro-choice. That is, I think it solely the business of the pregnant woman what she does with her own body. But that doesn’t mean the idea of an actual abortion doesn’t make me uneasy. I don’t think it’s murder, but neither to I morally equate it with squashing a bug, either, even if that bug is “more complex” than the zygote/embryo. I don’t know where to put abortion on this spectrum. I can see why there is a debate.

    Anyway. Perhaps this uneasiness is simply an irrational result of my fundamentalist upbringing.

      • Mark says

        How can you consider yourself pro-life if you think “it solely the business of the pregnant woman what she does with her own body”? Or do you think a person can be pro-choice AND pro-life?

    • says

      Hold up there. Didn’t you say that your relatives scoff at the anti-choicers who dog women at clinics, for interfering with those women’s lives? If your relatives disapprove of abortion, think it’s murder, etc., but still wouldn’t pass laws, or stand outside a clinic, to prevent someone else from getting them, then they are really pro-choice. And Deacon Duncan is correct: the vast majority of people recognize that this is the correct position.

      And, about the misogyny involved–well, your relatives may not intend to express misogyny, but by allying themselves with people who really are motivated by a desire to punish women for having sex, and giving cover to them (i.e., “Well, MY friends are ‘pro-life’ and THEY don’t hate women! They just love itty bitty zygotes!”), they create misogynist outcomes to their actions. Doesn’t matter what your motivations are for cutting women off from full bodily autonomy, the result is still women dead, women sick, women impoverished, women deprived of educations, for more than men are.

      How do you define misogyny?

      • Mark says

        I didn’t say my relative scoffs at pro-life picketers for “interfering with those women’s lives,” but because they tend to only care about the fetus and not about what happens after that. He hates the idea that people care about the unborn but ignore the born.
        I see your point in calling my relative “really pro-choice,” but he would not label himself that way, because he sincerely believes that abortion is murder. He also sincerely believes that if you’re going to “save a child from being killed” and then let it starve or become addicted to drugs through poverty and ignoring its need, then you haven’t done the child much of a favor.
        I can’t speak for my relative too much, but I think that he has no desire to punish women for having sex, nor even for having an abortion. So in that sense, he, like me, sees abortion as less than murder but more than squashing a bug.
        As far as misogyny – I hesitate to blanket-statement “pro-lifers” in that way. As a former “pro-lifer” myself, it was never my desire to punish women for having sex, nor did I see that desire in my numerous female relatives who also identified as “pro-life.” It was not about denying choice to women, it was about saving the lives of what we sincerely believed were human beings; that is, people.
        Yeah. So I’m still thinking about this whole issue…

      • says

        Dude. I’m not questioning the sincerity of anyone’s conscious beliefs. I’m just saying, sincerely believing that you don’t want to punish women for having sex, is not a guarantee that what you’re doing isn’t, in effect, punishing women for having sex.

      • says

        he would not label himself that way

        This is the triumph of marketing. If you’re not pro-life then you must be pro-death or anti-life. Right? Millions of people label themselves pro-life while espousing pro-choice positions. I’ve seen it again and again.

  10. says

    @8.1.1 NotAnAtheist

    I would question if those who hold to the “rape” exception hold to it for any moral reasons, or rather if its just political.

    This is a point I was going to raise. I lived in South Dakota in 2006 when there was a Referendum on the ballot to make abortion completely illegal (no exceptions). It was the argument that there need to be exceptions that was used against the Referendum, and this argument was used by the pro-choice groups against the anti-abortion groups. The anti-abortion groups were against such exceptions. But the Referendum failed. In South Dakota. Which is fairly conservative and would seem to have a fair-sized Evangelical population (based on personal experience, not actual data).

    Long story short, the anti-abortion people have lost the exception argument. Ryan probably wouldn’t want exceptions (except for perhaps his own relatives or possible mistresses, like some other congressman from Tennessee), but likely knows it is a losing argument politically, so he pretends that is his position.

  11. Steve R says

    Has anyone pointed out that the “It’s a person from the moment of fertilization!” position grants legal personhood to some (fortunately rare, but very nasty) forms of cancer? What about teratoma? Do we arrest the person who is carrying a twin that didn’t separate, or the doctor who removes the failed twin?

  12. says

    I am not sure that Ryan concedes exceptions that you cite. His pro-life position has no exceptions:

    Take a look for yourself.

    Now, if you find another quote which says that “The Romney administration will…” or “Ryan agrees with Romney in…”, he can be called a liar, but his position has been consistent ever since he started running for Congress.

    “No exceptions” is how he rolls.

  13. reliwhat says

    Good points, i would have liked to know the exact characteristics that define someone as a human being tho, would have made the much more complete.

  14. says

    “No exceptions” is how he rolls.

    Unless it’s Rick Santorum’s wife. I’ll bet Ryan was fine with her tragic pregnancy being terminated by abortion before it killed her. It’s *different* if it’s them or someone they know. Funny how that works.

  15. says

    Deacon,

    Your argument was famously expressed in 2007 by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/08/05/how-much-jail-time.html

    And mostly answered by the NRO when they had the respect not to put answers in the mouths of abortion opponents but to ask well known famous abortion opponents how they would respond:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/221742/one-untrue-thing/nro-symposium

    I think both articles are thought provoking, and the latter argument illustrates while putting words in your opponent’s mouths can often mislead you.

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