I love it when people who disagree with me have questions (actual questions, not just point-scoring attempts) about my beliefs. So I was delighted to come across London preacher Andrew Haslam’s post ‘Ten Questions for Pro-Choice People‘.
Let me state my purpose up front: I’m a pro-lifer with ten genuine questions aimed at pro-choice people, and I’m hoping that you (dear reader) will keep on reading to the end.
But I’m also realistic. The chance of keeping your attention on such a matter of deep division is not going to be easy, not least because you may well imagine me to be misogynistic and backward.
I was passionately pro-life for a year and a half in my late teens after being recruited to that viewpoint by two schoolmates; I was too disorganised to join a group, but it was still a belief I held 100%. So, no, I don’t assume people are misogynistic or backward just because they’re pro-life. (Readers will probably wonder how I came to change sides so thoroughly on this; the short answer is that all the reading and thinking about the subject that I was doing in order to mutter righteously to myself about how much I disagreed with pro-choicers eventually had the opposite effect and brought me round the full 180o on the topic. I’ll write the full version someday.)
And so, I urge you to read and even respond.
You betcha. You had me at ‘ten genuine questions aimed at pro-choice people’.
A few quick notes:
1. I plan to answer the questions over the course of multiple posts, as I think there’ll be too much material here to cover in one go.
2. I originally planned to work through them in order (dull and conventional person that I am), but, as I mentally drafted my answers, I realised that some of the most fundamental points come up in the last couple of questions and that it’ll work better if I answer those first. So I’m going to answer the questions in reverse order. (
The first two have ended up being particularly long, by the way, but this won’t be the case for all of them ooookaaaay, forget that bit, I think most of them are ending up a lot longer than I’d anticipated.)
3. Like Andrew, I want this discussion to stay rational and civil, so I’m going to stipulate now that any commenters have to stick to that rule as well. If you want to disagree (with me, with Andrew, or with both of us) go right ahead; but either keep it polite and respectful, or take it elsewhere. I will enforce this if need be.
That covers the background, so on to the questions!
10. When does a person become a person? This is really the question to rule them all. Everything depends on this.
No, it doesn’t. Here’s why:
No-one has the right to make use of an unwilling person’s organs. Yet that’s what happens when a woman is made to continue a pregnancy she doesn’t want; a decision that that fetus should live cannot be separated from the decision that she has to keep it within her body with all that that entails. And ‘all that that entails’ is not trivial by any means. Even a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy is typically going to involve significant amounts of nausea or fatigue or both, with intense pain at the end in giving birth. There’s a high chance of either genital tearing or major abdominal surgery at the end. That’s in a normal pregnancy. There’s also a non-negligible chance of developing more significant medical complications, which can in some cases be long-term. While it’s rare for medical complications actually to reach the point of proving fatal, it still happens and it’s less rare in women with continued pregnancies than in women who have early abortions.
On top of this, the rest of a woman’s life is not going to stay on hold while she deals with all this. So pregnancy can have severe impacts on her ability to manage her day-to-day responsibilities, and that, again, can have far-reaching consequences. And on top of that, she’s faced with a dilemma that will have consequences for her lifelong: due to the way hormones prime the bodies of the pregnant to bond to the children they give birth to, it’s going to be difficult, often impossible, for her to face giving up even a child that was unwanted in the first place… but the alternative is to take on the massive, life-changing job of raising that child.
There isn’t an exact analogy to all this, but the closest we have is organ donation, which saves the life of one person at the cost of significant physical impact and bodily invasion for another. Well… we don’t legally compel people to donate their kidneys, even though that saves lives. We don’t even compel people to donate bone marrow or blood, which are considerably less invasive procedures. The law recognises that even the saving of lives doesn’t override the basic right to have veto power over what gets done to our bodies.
It’s possible that you, or another pro-life reader, is shocked or offended that I describe pregnancy and birth in such negative terms. In case anyone reading it did react that way, to them I say this: Ask yourself what part of the description above you believe to be inaccurate. My guess is that what bothers you is not that you felt any part of it was actually inaccurate, but that it’s incomplete; that you’re bothered that I would list only negatives about pregnancy and childbirth without mentioning the positives. Then think about how often our society in general holds precisely that expectation; that women should be willing to overlook or tolerate all of the risks and difficulties I mentioned, all in the name of a sort of awe and reverence at the wonder of creating new life. If it makes anyone feel any better, I can assure you that, on a personal level, I certainly do feel the ‘wonder of new life’ aspect to be the overreaching one; that’s why I have two loved and very much wanted children and was more than happy to go through all of the downsides to pregnancy and birth. But doing so only made me much more aware of how difficult it can be (and, in fact, my experience was a relatively easy one in all sorts of ways) and of how horrible an idea it is to decide that we should force this experience on pregnant people collectively, regardless of their feelings on the matter.
So, to get back to your question above… no, the question of when a person becomes a person doesn’t do a thing to decide the abortion debate. I don’t, as it happens, agree with the idea that the answer is ‘As soon as the chromosomes are all together in the same cell’, but that’s still irrelevant. To answer your follow-up question of ‘When did you become you?’, my personal answer to that is probably that I started becoming me when I was sixteen and that I’m still making tweaks here and there (and probably always will be). Which, of course, is irrelevant to the question of when I first had a right to life; neither of us believe that my right to life started only at the point that I retrospectively feel, based on changes and developments in my personality at the time, to be the start of what I’d consider as my essential me-ness, so ‘When did you become you?’ isn’t that useful a question here. But, far more importantly, it’s also entirely irrelevant to the question of ‘When did you first develop the right to make prolonged and intimate use of someone else’s body against their wishes to keep yourself alive?’ The answer to that question is that I never had that right and never will have. I’m delighted that my mother did choose to have me – I love being alive – but my happiness that things turned out the way they did in terms of my existence doesn’t give me any sort of retrospective right to claim that they should have turned out that way.
9. What do you think our descendants will think of us?
I doubt that either side of the debate will ever win out significantly enough for our descendants to look back on the other side as some horrifying archaism (although I certainly hope we reach the point where use of reliable long-acting reversible contraception is so routine and widespread that our descendants look back in astonishment on the times when unwanted pregnancy was ever as common a problem as it is now), so I don’t think this question itself particularly gets the debate any further. However, I want to look at some of your follow-up questions in this section, as they’re worth discussing.
Western society has been shown to be wrong on some key human rights issues in the past – most notably slavery and racial prejudice. […] But do you not suppose that we have equally glaring blind spots in our seemingly advanced age?
I’m sure we do; I just don’t believe that ‘people should not be compelled to remain pregnant against their wishes’ is one of them.
I am confident that some future generation will look back on us with disgust for two reasons: (1) The logical inconsistencies of the pro-choice movement will become clearer over time, just as the pro-slavery movement eventually lost the argument
I think there are a couple of problems with that analogy.
The pro-slavery movement were initially able to hold sway because so many of the general public believed that black people were fundamentally different from/inferior to white people, but this view was gradually changed by, in large part, black people themselves; the writings and speeches of former or current slaves made it very clear that they were people and that it was a monstrous injustice to enslave them or treat them in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable to white people. That wasn’t by any means the only factor that eventually led to abolitionists winning the day, but it was a significant part of what changed the minds of the public as a whole.
Now, of course, the first problem you have with applying that strategy to the pro-life message is that fetuses don’t write or make speeches. While that doesn’t in itself make your arguments invalid, it does mean that you’re missing one of the major factors that changed people’s mind over abolitionism. The other big problem with your analogy is that we don’t really have the same situation here; ignorance over facts isn’t that significant a reason why people disagree with you. Most people already know about fetal development. They already know that development starts from conception. They already know what fetuses look like. The problem is not that we don’t know these things; the problem is that we disagree with you about what conclusions to draw about the morality of abortion. Most people (even among the nominally pro-life) don’t really see ‘This cell now has the full genetic makeup of a human being’ or ‘This cell has the full potential to develop into a baby’ as good enough reasons for a zygote to be regarded as equivalent to a child.
(2) Advances in medicine and science will make it more difficult to sustain a hard boundary between ‘blob of cells’ and ‘human being’, and with no such boundary there is no longer any conscionable reason for allowing abortion at any point after conception.
There’s an assumption here that’s a key argument among pro-lifers, and certainly one I initially found compelling in my pro-life days; the idea that we have to have some sort of clearly definable reason for drawing this boundary at one point rather than another. I remember thinking of this as the ‘Sherlock Holmes argument’; when you have eliminated the impossible then what remains, however improbable, must be your answer. It’s impossible to point to any other reasonably clearcut point on the continuum of development, so therefore, however improbable it is that a single cell should be considered a person and granted full human rights, that has to be the point at which we do these things. And I was utterly convinced of the necessity of this; after all, without that kind of clearly definable boundary, obviously we would be on a slippery slope in which allowing abortion up to any given time limit would inevitably, due to the lack of clear reasons for that particular limit, lead to us allowing it after that time limit, and then to allowing infanticide, and then inexorably on to allowing us to kill off anyone of any age.
And then one day, apropos of nothing much, it hit me that… this was not actually happening. This was in the late ’80s, so abortion had been legal in the UK for over twenty years by then. During that time, the legal limit on abortion had remained exactly the same. It hadn’t been pushed out further. We hadn’t legalised infanticide. There didn’t seem to be any howling mobs calling for those things to happen. I remember being quite confused by this – after all, the pro-life argument in this area seemed unassailably logical – but I couldn’t deny that, however logically pro-lifers argued that this would happen, it clearly wasn’t happening.
It was only years later that I realised where the flaw had lain in my initial logic: people are, in fact, completely capable of drawing an arbitrary boundary across a continuum, and do so all the time. We do that with deciding the age at which people are old enough to consent to sex, to drive, to vote, to marry. We draw legal boundaries for the ages of all those things and we keep to them; not because there is any sort of fundamental identifiable difference between a person on their sixteenth or seventeenth or eighteenth birthday and the same person the day before, but because we recognise that’s the best, albeit imperfect, way to deal with the fact that people gradually develop from a stage in which they can’t safely handle those situations to a stage in which they have the mental development to be at least allowed to try. We disagree on where exactly those legal boundaries should be, and sometimes those disagreements result in us changing them… but we don’t, as a society, reach the conclusion that because there is no biological or developmental reason for drawing a hard boundary between a teenager of fifteen years plus 364 days and a sixteen-year-old then that means it’s fine to have sex with young children.
And we do the same thing with abortion laws. Most people don’t want a situation where abortion is banned from conception on. Most people don’t want a situation where a person can legally decide to abort at any time up until birth. (That ‘most people’, by the way, includes people giving birth, which is why the apocryphal ‘but what if a woman chose to have an abortion five minutes before birth??’ scenario that crops up so often in pro-life arguments has never, to my knowledge, been known to show up in real life.) People do, for the most part, acknowledge that fetal development is a continuum and believe that this continuum should be reflected in abortion law.
So, no; the lack of a hard boundary after conception does not mean that we need to ban abortion from conception on.
8. Why is it more acceptable to fight for the rights of animals than of unborn humans?
Overall, I’m not sure it is. (Granted, that collection of links is pretty anecdotal evidence, but it does indicate that there are a lot of people out there getting stick for their beliefs in animal rights.) Of course, there are certainly some people who are more sympathetic to the animal rights cause than to the pro-life cause; without wanting to generalise about anyone else’s views, I think the factors there are a) the view I described when answering question 10 in the last post, namely that enforced continued pregnancy isn’t morally acceptable regardless of how we regard fetuses, and b) a belief that ‘presence of sentient awareness’ is a more defensible deciding factor than ‘species membership’ when regarding what protections a being should have.
As a rule, vegans are not considered to be among the lunatic fringe. Unlike pro-lifers, they usually get respect for their beliefs.
Apart from the points I made above, I think you’re talking apples and oranges there. Veganism is typically a decision that someone makes about their own personal diet; the pro-life equivalent would be a person whose beliefs about abortion lead her to decide to continue her own unwanted pregnancy, but who doesn’t believe she should make that decision for others. Vegans who go round actively campaigning for meat-eating to be made illegal and chanting that meat is murder are likely to receive rather less respect for their beliefs.
7. Why not prefer adoption over abortion?
Because it still means a) going through with the pregnancy with all that that involves and b) having to relinquish the child at the end, both of which are extremely hard to do (even with a pregnancy that wasn’t wanted).
Of course, this is still the choice that some women prefer, and I entirely agree that anyone for whom this is the choice should be allowed and supported to go through with it. However, if you’re asking why it’s usually not the preferred choice for an unwanted pregnancy… well, that’s why.
Wouldn’t it be a heroic thing to carry a baby to term and let that child live and be raised in a loving home?
It would, yes, just as it’s heroic for a surrogate mother to make the decision to become pregnant for that same purpose. Heroic acts, by definition, are over and beyond; they should never become things that people are legally compelled to do.
I don’t want to minimise the pain involved in giving away a child, but it seems to me quite obviously preferable to ending that child’s life altogether.
It’s certainly preferable for the adoptive parents who receive the child, and in most cases it’s going to be preferable for the child. In most cases it is not going to be preferable for the person who’s actually pregnant, for the reasons I gave above.
That’s four questions covered and a lengthy post so far, so this seems a good point to finish Part 1. I’ll aim to cover questions 6, 5 and 4 in Part 2 and questions 3, 2 and 1 in Part 1, and link them back to this post when I’m done.
Amended: I found vastly more to say about question 6 than I’d anticipated, so that now has a post on its own, which is here.
Nice job here! I totally agree. My question is, why can’t a democrat be pro-life?
Dr Sarah says
@yannoupoika: Looks like some of them are.
Matthew Currie says
So far so good, but the question on descendants seems an odd one. Abortion has been legal for a while. It has a history. Want to know what our descendants would think? Most of the people asking this are not all that young, so ask your children and your grandchildren. Anti-abortion spokespeople cite some abstract future generation but do not extend to the people who actually exist the courtesy of believing they can speak for themselves. If future generations look unfavorably on abortion, it would dwindle on its own. Opposition would grow, not shrink.
The argument seems a little like that of anti-gay-rights advocates, postulating a “what if” scenario of doom, forgetting that “what if” came and went.
Thanks for the great topic!
Here’s my two cents: these arguments for the “humanity” of the zygote/embryo/fetus always ignore the humanity of the person who’s carrying the z/e/f. Isn’t that strange? There is zero doubt that the pregnant person is, indeed, a human being, yet her right to life is being dismissed. Up until very recently in our history, pregnancy was the number-one killer of women…and rates of pregnant women dying in pregnancy or childbirth are still horrifically high, particularly in third-world nations like the USA (I am a USA-ian…I can say that). Unlike the anti-choice fantasy the being pregnant and giving birth is as simple as trying on a pair of jeans at the mall, pregnancy forever changes a woman’s body and can outright kill her. If a woman chooses to take the risks then it’s fine, but if not, that’s torture and the chance of a death sentence. How pro-life is it to demand someone they never met die for them?
On the issue of when a fetus becomes a person; the Bible and the Tanach are very clear that it’s at first breath. The bible even gives a recipe for abortion and describes the right of a suspicious husband to force his wife to abort at his convenience. If a pregnant woman miscarries as a result of someone’s attack on her, it’s considered a property crime and the husband can collect money–it’s not treated as a murder. So it’s disingenuous for the religious to carry on about abortion.
On the issue of animal rights vs. embryo rights: animals are alive; nobody is concerned about the rights of hypothetical animals. However, it’s quite telling that the same anti-choicers who have zero concern about the actual human in the abortion debate–the woman–have zero concern about the mistreatment of animals. These people are most often not at all worried about mistreatment; they’re just big old control freaks who want to impose their will on others regardless of the physical and mental cost to those others.
I have a question as well. Why do so many people who consider themselves “pro-lifers” shame unmarried women who don’t let their ova die?
What bothers me most about “questions” like this is that they don’t seem to be talking about real people, in real situations.
I don’t think that, for most women, the decision to abort a pregnancy is based on philosophical considerations. In many cases, they want an abortion because they are simply not in a position to care for another child, or maybe any child at all — it’s a choice of whether to give the children who are already there (and their mother) a decent life, or to give the new child and any already-born ones a miserable existence. I recall that the “Freakonomics” people posit that the existence of widely available abortion is responsible for the decreasing crime rate: mothers who were in no position to care for a child were getting abortions instead of having children who would grow up in misery and dysfunction and, in all likelihood, contribute to the crime rate. (Society doesn’t care about the misery these children will endure from birth on, it only cares about “the crime rate.”)
I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot of privilege in the abortion debate. There’s an assumption that the pregnant woman will get halfway decent health care during and after the pregnancy, and that the child will grow up in a well-off, functional family. I notice that the loudest opponents of abortion also seem to be the people who want to make the lives of the poor and marginalized (an ever-growing segment of the population), and especially the women among them, as miserable as possible. And in the states where they’ve more or less succeeded in outlawing abortion, it seems to be accompanied by a remarkable lack of compassion, either for the mother or for the child. When debating, they talk about allowing abortion if the life of the mother is at stake, but when it comes to actual laws, that exception is left out. And they are also the states where what assistence is available to the poor is inadequate and implemented in a demeaning and punitive fashion.
This, more than anything, is IMHO the biggest argument against the “pro-life” position: that in practice it ends up being about making the lives of women and children worse. The most powerful groups on the “pro-life” side are also the groups that are promoting policies of misgyny, racism, and hatred of the poor. And most of the people who aren’t for that are speaking from the ignorance that comes from privilege. “In a perfect world,” perhaps some of the arguments against abortion might make sense. But we live in a world that is far from perfect and in which powerful forces are trying to make it less so. Pregnant women have to live in and deal with the world as it is, not as some idealists might wish it to be.
Somewhat off-topic, but: when “pro-lifers” use the argument, “what if your mother had aborted you?” I want to say: I would have been better off if she had. We weren’t even poor, but my growing up was a living hell and a hell that has never really left me, to the point that for much of my adult life I thought it was a mistake that I hadn’t killed myself back then. Based on my own experience, I feel that in many cases, it would have been kinder to abort the fetus than to force the child to grow up in the circumstances they would have grown up in.
Allison makes a lot of great points.
As far as finances go; in the USA it’s not at all unusual for a normal, uncomplicated childbirth to cost $40,000. Insurance may cover some of that, but certainly not all. The USA also doesn’t have a maternity policy, so most women exhaust any leave they might have and if they’re lucky, can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave…if they work for a company with more than 50 employees. Then there’s daycare, which can cost more than state university. Then there’s all the things a baby needs–diapers and food and health care. A $50 co-pay for a doctor’s appointment every month adds up quickly, then there are the co-pays for vaccinations and any medications. For a woman unexpectedly pregnant, the financial burden can be more than a family can bear. It’s certainly true that the loudest voices claiming to want to nurture life are the very ones demanding people ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
On the topic of adoption:
Adoption is wonderful, for those who are lucky enough to be chosen. Too many kids are passed over, though, for purely selfish “reasons” like being too old, not white enough, and for having disabilities or other complex needs.
Pierce R. Butler says
Questions slanted with counterfactual assumptions, implicit arrogance, no sign of the slightest awareness of pro-choice response to the same spiels decades ago, and a patina of friendly sincerity so shiny it may even convince Haslam himself.
Same old same old.
Betcha Pastor Andrew Haslam will talk past your answers and (who wants to track his ramblings indefinitely?) continue to emit variations on the same things with no substantial changes or even acknowledgements of anything you say, except perhaps to distort it.
Been there, done that, still have some of the t-shirts.
I see no reason why giving up your kid like an aunt did is considered a better outcome than a cousin keeping hers, all things being equal.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Quotes from others in blockquotes. If the quote is from the pro-life person who created the question, it is both in blockquotes and bolded.
Some of the things I say are similar to things that others have already said, but that is merely because I decided to read from the top, stop as soon as a question was asked by our pro-life interlocutor so as to preserve the integrity of my own thought process, and THEN read Dr Sarah’s and others’ answers. In fact, I prefer some other versions of my own points (age of consent lines as mentioned by Dr. Sarah are actually a much better example than my academic achievement/ scholarships/ matriculation lines, since they directly related to the development of human capacities over time), but even when I later discovered someone else had said something in a better way, I left intact my own thinking, as deficient and seemingly repetitive as it might be.
1st: Why do they say we “assume” that they are misogynistic rather than that we “conclude” that they are misogynistic. Just because my conclusions are sometimes wrong doesn’t automatically mean that I failed to look at available evidence in reaching my conclusions. Using “assume” here is a mark of bad faith, because it includes the presupposition that no one who does think of the questioner as misogynistic has actually thought through their position.
If you start off relying on the premise that I don’t look at evidence, why are we having a conversation anyway?
2nd: This depends entirely on the definition of “misogynistic”. If we restrict it to the meaning “a conscious, subjective feeling of hatred, fear, disgust or antipathy toward women or toward female bodies”, then no. It is likely that the majority of pro-lifers are NOT misogynistic, and therefore from the sole evidence that someone is pro-life, we cannot have enough evidence to conclude they meet that definition of misogynistic. In fact, the evidence that we do have is stronger (though not at all certain) that they are NOT misogynistic under that definition.
However, that’s not the only definition of “misogynistic” in widespread use. So let’s look at a common feminist definition, “actions which or persons who support sexist regimes in which women and people with female bodies have fewer rights or more highly conditioned rights than men and people with male people.” Having had a ton of experience with people who use sexist arguments or double-standards in making their case for laws restricting or outlawing abortion, I feel very comfortable saying that the vast majority of persons who argue for those laws are misogynistic according to this particular definition. Although my personal experience isn’t the same as empirical data, I can’t ignore it, and the experiences lean overwhelmingly toward one conclusion. So, yes. I would conclude that those people are misogynistic, but I don’t think they’re demons. I don’t think they have ill will. I don’t think that they want to hurt people – at least the vast majority of them don’t.
But yes. The vast majority of them want to support a regime of sexist double standards, which is, by the definition I consider most relevant, misogynistic.
The problem here is that the person writing the questions is that they appear to take the view that no one is misogynistic unless they are a slavering, anti-woman monster. But that’s not what feminists mean when they say something is misogynistic.
When you create different standards of treatment (and behavior) for men & women in a context where those standards have consistently harmed women more than men, your misogynist. You might not feel like it, but just because you’re not paying attention to the consequences for women doesn’t mean that there are none, and others are free to conclude that prioritizing X over equal rights for women is a devaluation of women, and the devaluation of women is the essence of misogyny.
So, yeah. I’m not calling anyone irremediably evil. I’m saying that when you’re advocating for for anti-abortion legislation specifically (or the pro-life position more generally) the evidence shows that it is very likely that you’re engaging in misogyny while doing so, and if you engage in misogyny, intentional or not, you’re misoginistic. The evidence is, indeed, sufficiently in favor of that being the case, that I’m entirely reasonable to conclude that if you’re making those arguments, you’re misogynistic.
Now I need to take the opportunity of a small disagreement with our host Dr. Sarah to clarify something I find important:
I would frame this differently, since I see a problem here. If by “no-one has the right” you mean “there is no right in law like this” then the conversation is already over. There is a right to abortion in law. There is not a right to force someone else to carry a pregnancy to term under the law. Not even a government can do this.
So instead of talking about rights as they exist, the entire conversation is based on the idea that rights could change. Unless our purpose is to thumb our nose at the person asking us these questions, then the question deserves a deeper answer, grounded in different reasons, than “that right doesn’t exist”.
Instead, then, we have to ask, “Are you only arguing for the right of one person to use another person’s organs in the case of a fetus’ gestation inside the body where that fetus was conceived?” If so, then this is a double-standard that applies only to female-bodied persons. It is misogynist, it is unfair, and ultimately it’s not about a generally held right of persons to use other persons’ organs. They might THINK that they’re founding their argument on the right of a person to use another person’s organs, but they’re not. They’re founding their argument on sexism.
But if not, then it becomes very interesting. Then you get into questions like, “If you cause a car accident, can you be forced to give away – temporarily or permanently – any of your organs to make an injured person whole or save a dying person’s life?” If the answer to that question is yes, then we’re not dealing with a sexism. We are dealing with whether or not a new right, the right to use the organs of another, would be a good thing.
The truth is that even someone who might get this far in a conversation with you is unlikely to have thought very far ahead about how this would change society, and any argument for this right as a fundamental underpinning of anti-abortion laws is likely to devolve into incoherence and multiple “I don’t know” answers. That’s okay. IF that’s where they’re at, that’s neither sexist nor dishonest. But since they don’t know how such a new right would reshape society, and since they can’t honestly advocate for that right if they don’t even know what it would look like in practice, then we can’t use that to underpin anti-abortion laws or pro-life arguments today. At best, this means “Okay, I’ll have to think about that a lot and maybe we can have this conversation again someday.”
If the person HAS thought this through and HAS a good idea of how this would change society and they argue for a new right to use others’ organs that you agree with, THEN whether or not a fetus is a person very much does become relevant. Depending on your answer, you might even concede the point and embrace advocacy of both this new, general right and the pro-life position which rests on that foundation.
But honestly, I’m not holding my breath for someone to skillfully and convincingly make that argument. I’ve never even found someone to make the argument for this position in the first place, much less make it skillfully and convincingly.
Still, it only takes one. So give it a go, pro-lifers. Ditch the sexism and argue for a general right to use others’ organs. Once you get that, then your “when does a developing organism become a person” question will absolutely become relevant.
I honestly don’t care.
I’m someone who cares deeply about morality. I think about it every day. I’ve studied the philosophy of ethics much more deeply than most. Over the decades I have cobbled together what seems to me to be the best system for moral decision making that I can both conceive and put into practice. I do the best I can with what I’ve got, and if others come along after I’ve died and decide that I lived my life as a terrible human being, then I can only hope that’s because they’ve developed the art and practice of moral decision making farther than I was able to do, and that’s fantastic.
So good on you, descendants, but I can’t make my moral decisions based on a philosophy of ethics that doesn’t exist or based on evidence of the consequences of my actions that has not yet been collected.
I don’t live in the future. I live in the now. I am not accountable in the future. I am accountable now, while I’m still alive.
As a supplementary point, though one not necessary to my response on the possibility of descendants condemning me, let me address one particular aspect of this:
The fact that a continuum exists does not preclude drawing boundaries, even hard ones. Academic accomplishment has many measurements and exists on a continuum. Yet colleges give scholarships to some students and not to others. They admit some students and not others. They draw hard lines on things like the SAT and say that someone will not even be considered for admission without a test score of X points, even though the SAT isn’t a binary pass/fail but a continuum of scores in its own right.
The point is not that the decision to admit someone to college is the same as the decision to continue a pregnancy. The point is merely that the fact that a continuum exists does not make it impossible to render binary decisions such as, “Will I/Should I continue this pregnancy to term?”
This is not to supersede our host’s own, fundamentally similar yet differently worded response:
It’s just that I’ve been trying to respond to the questions as I go, so I hadn’t read that response before I started writing my own.
Are you for real?
How many animal rights advocates are there in the US Congress? How many anti-abortion legislation advocates are there in the US Congress?
I rest my case.
How do you know that I don’t?
But that’s not the question. The question is, is it good for society if I am able to enforce you to act out my preferences for your pregnancy.
Say for a moment that I prefer that you give up your children for adoption so that they can be raised by someone who is neither strongly pro-life nor strongly pro-choice in the hopes that the next generation won’t be plagued by the schisms of this generation. Given that that’s my preference, should I have the right to pass a law that transfers guardianship of your children and ends your parental rights regardless of what you want?
If I can’t legislatively force you to adopt out your children merely because that’s my preference, then why should I be legislatively forced to carry a pregnancy to term because of your preference?
“Other people prefer” has no place in a discussion of rights. If rights are subject to the preferences of our neighbors, they aren’t rights. So… let’s just pretend you never said this, okay?
Not if it was mandated by law. By definition, “I did the minimum amount required by law” is not heroism. If you honestly believe that this is heroic and should continue to be regarded as heroic, then you are obligated to preserve the right to abortion.
(and again, I’ve made an argument that was already made by our host: please no one interpret that as my judgement that her version of these arguments was inadequate in some way. I was merely attempting to provide truly independent answers, but however independently I might have come up with my answers, great minds do sometimes think alike.)
Thanks for this discussion, Dr. Sarah.
Hmmm….circling back to “heroically give birth”…so, the original questioner wants others to step up and sacrifice and be heroes. That brings to mind what’s happening now in the USA, with medical staff risking their lives with inadequate PPE to treat the COVID patients, while others swing guns and block traffic to demand the “right” to get their nails painted.
The USA has a foster system with tens of thousands of children in that system, most perfectly free to be adopted, but they’ll “age out” of the system and be kicked out onto the streets because nobody wants to adopt them.
Andreas Avester says
Yes, but there is more. Our society stigmatizes women who choose not to raise their children. Often woman’s family members will pressure her to keep the child in cases where she would prefer to give it up for adoption. If a woman leaves her newborn baby, many people will call her coldhearted and evil. I recently wrote about parents who wish they had remained childfree (here https://freethoughtblogs.com/andreasavester/2020/03/06/parenthood-regrets-parents-who-wish-they-were-childfree/ ), and holy shit some people really cannot tolerate mothers who don’t like being parents.
I do believe that abortions must remain legal during the whole pregnancy time period. Among pro-life people there is some fearmongering that some women might carelessly decide to get an abortion at the fifth or sixth month only because they were too lazy and indecisive to do it sooner. But the reality is that all late term abortions are wanted children, and these pregnancies must be terminated due to medical complications. When a mother’s health is in danger or tests confirm that the baby is incompatible with life, an abortion becomes a necessity, and doctors shouldn’t debate about whether there still is a heartbeat or whether they could get in legal trouble for performing a late term abortion. Here https://jezebel.com/interview-with-a-woman-who-recently-had-an-abortion-at-1781972395 is one story of a woman who needed a late term abortion due to a medical problem—it was a wanted child, but tests confirmed that the baby was incompatible with life. She ended up getting an abortion, but it was hard to obtain and expensive, despite the fact that in her situation it was absolutely necessary.
Dr Sarah says
I’ve deleted the last few lines of your comment, in accordance with what I stated early in the post: commenters on this post are expected to keep it polite and respectful or go elsewhere. Neither of us knows how Andrew Haslam feels about children in the foster system, what he might or might not be doing about them, or what his reasons might be for whatever he isn’t doing about them, so making assumptions like that, especially in that tone, isn’t OK.
There are indeed far too many children stuck in the foster system, but that’s a separate issue from the choice over whether to deal with an unwanted pregnancy by giving the baby up for adoption at birth. Babies available for adoption have a line of people round the block wanting to adopt them. Older children in the foster system are typically there because it’s been necessary to remove them from horrible conditions in their birth families, not because they were given up for adoption at birth.
@ Dr. Sarah; I don’t recall the actual wording of what I said and I apologize if my words crossed a line. As a foster mother for 20-some years, I ran across the attitude over and over and over from a certain crowd that the fetus must be brought to term at every cost to the woman carrying the fetus, but once the fetus was born, the very people demanding it be born promptly lost interest in it.
There absolutely are children born into foster care who age out; I had two. One came to us at 6 months, the other at 11 months. Both were born with special needs that my insurance considered “preexisting conditions” so they remained in the foster system–which paid for the special care they needed–but they were “my” children and are still “my” children even though both are adults living adult lives.
Fact is that non-white, non-perfect children find it much harder to find homes and some go their whole childhood in the system until they age out at 18. For all the oh-so-precious concern about the BAYBEEEZE, there’s so few ready to step up and provide the existing ones homes.
@Andreas Avester, thanks for the link. It’s astoundingly misogynistic how anti-choicers imagine that women have healthy pregnancies, then minutes from birth and just decide on a whim, “Hey, I want to abort!” I once had a co-worker who insisted he “knew so many women who were *ONE MINUTE* from giving birth and decided to abort!”
@4. Katydid :
My number 1, spot on, go to youtube clip on this issue suggests something else :
at the 1 minute 45 seonds or so mark especially.
I think that clip by Betty Bowers sums things up quite brilliantly and guess most folks here have already seen it but, yeah?
A person gets acepted as human at .. one month old out of the womb. It seems?
PS. I need to say that I don’;t agree with the Bible or torah & mishnah? Guess so. Coz I don’t.
A person becomes a person at .. it varies and is context and individual dependent maybe? It’s hard to say but it easy to say that a bunch of human cells even inthe form of a fetus or embryo is definitley NOT the same as an actual person in my opinion.
So when it comes this question my view :
Ethical axiom 1~ish : Any individual gets to control what happens to their body including whether or not they give birth or not.No one else has the right todetermine taht for them or disprespect their wishe intheir matter. End of.
For me that’s the key, determinative principle at wok here.
So my answers to these questions which – sorry but I am going to state are in my view are a disingenouous attempt to shift the framing and narrative on this topic :
Numerals added for clarity / ease of addressing specificially.
1) Good question, depends on a lot of different things and on how you define “person” -I think this is a variable and a continuuum and has fuzzy boundaies depending on a lot of factors adn specifics of individual & conjectural circumstances
2) It is? Is it? Why? “Rule” huh? Right there you seem to be stating that this is main determinative priority and I do not agree that it is.
3) You assert that. Why? That specific premise & prioritity rejected by me. Evidence and reasoning to show otherwise required.
Well, what do we think of our descendents – or I suspect you mean ancestors (?) & how often? (Precedent. Pattern.)
I think they will condemn our lack of action on Global Overheating, on letting evil triumph too often politically eg Trump, Morriscum, Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duerte, Xi Jinping, Putin et al.. I suspect they will find an awful lot wrong with our choices and behaviours and societies in retrospect. I do NOT think they will condemn us for empowering individuals – mostly but not exclusively women – to have autonomy over their own bodies.
By the fact of asking of it, you seem to think this question is somehow relevant to the issue of abortion.
I disagree and will counter with asking whether you think it applies equally to equal marriage rights ie including letting LGBTQUIA folks marry _(outside of heteronormatiev bounds to be clear), to slavery, to civil rights, to vegetarianism / veganism, environmentalism, women’s rights and so much more. I will point out that on almost every major ethical issue (& ok this is somewhat subjective but show me enough counter-examples to disprove the general point here please?) that the progressive side of politics has historically been ethically right on every issue in hindsight as oppsoed to otys regressive opposites.
I do not know what future generations will think. I can only hope, think, act and be kind. I try to do that. I think and hope Iam doing that here. I also do NOT think you can speak for the future either or know what future generations will think anymore than I do. I believe an extrapolation of current trends and an ethically more thought-taken approach favours the pro- choice side here.
That premise raises more questions than it answers and is highly dubious.
However, biodoversity & the impact of Humanity upon the ecosytems, biomes and globe we all havew to share and depend on to live is highly important as are the rights to bodily autonomy and humanity faces no threat of extinction beyond that it poses to itself by its own actions including its refusal to choose to reduce its excesively large population and conseqeunt devastating impact on our pale blue dot of a planet. It helps all people to have less people in this world by choice and by empowering women and others capable of giving birth in my view. We cannot afford the ecological footprint we already having and are ethically obliged – in my view – to have fewer rather than more of us here.
It does not hurt those who do not exist because if you do NOT exist then by definition you are not capable of experiencing pain or suffering or, indeed inflicting pain and suffering upon others. You can argue hypotheticals but reality is real and if you can say what if you abort Jesus II then I can equally note what if you abort Hitler II or Trump II or merely a Saddam II or Kim Jong-Un II. Realitty ecologically, scientifically, I think pretty much inarguably is that we as a species and a planet would be better off with less not more people causing less not more (advertant or inadvertant) harm to our currently highly stressed and over-exploited varied but alsmot withoutr exception badly troubled biomes. Biomes we all share and all depend upon for life itself. Pro-life? Youclaim that applies accurately to you? Well, I think if you are the above paragraph infers that you must also be pro-choice for all forms of reproductive healthcare (& incidentally LGBTQUIA rights) as well.
The answer to that depends on the indvidual and their wishes and cirumstances and personal context. it is thus up to that specific individual and theri personal choice sand NOT up to you.
If you personally are in a situation where that is what you are facing then that is up to you to decide for yourself base don yoru own beliefs and circunmstances and life context and prospects and ethics. If you are NOT then it is NOT up to youand youneed torespect the choices of thsoe makin thsoe decuisipons and help them a sbest you can.
Because we control, what we do in life (if that?) because it is my / your lifeand not somebody elses to determine. Because if you would make that hoice for me, how whould like like it if Imade that chocie for you against your wishes? becuase we have to accpet the rwalityof other minds and other peopel and learn to get along withor cope or face them. We do NOT gewt to determine theri lives do we? Do we? Don’r we have words for taht fi we do? Like slave? Don’t we have rights, inalienable ones, and righst toour own bodies and the control thereof first and foremost?
What do you call someone who says they get to own the bodies of others and dictate what that person doe swith their own body without very good (& very limited set of reason(s)) indeed? What do we call that? Would youacpet that fromsomeone who oppsoes you inworldview having that sort of power over you? No? Then likewise?
Ack! Typos. Sorry. Its very late at night here and, well, I suck at typing at the best of times. My apologies and hope y’all get the gist of it. I’ like to say I won’t do it again but dangnabbit I can’t help myself sometimes.. 🙁
To clarifty coz I made a right mess of :
Okay, (D’oh! Blushes) that’s intended as :
Well, what do we think of our ancestors (previous generations & indeed, FWIW, which specific ones, we’ve all got so many going so far back that we know of and then that we don’t) – and what do you think that says about how our descendents will think of us & how often?
NB. Morriscum = the current Aussie PM FWIW. Not that actual spelling but the best one for Scotty from Marketing as we also know him. Potentially obscure ref for many outside Oz. See :
Take II for typos :
We do NOT get to determine their lives do we? Do we? Don’t we have words for that if we do? Like slave & slave-owner respectively? Don’t we all have rights, inalienable ones, and rights to our own bodies and the control thereof first and foremost?What do you call someone who says they get to own the bodies of others and dictate what that person does with their own body without very good (& very limited set of reason(s) indeed? What do we call that? Would you accept that from someone who opposes you in worldview having that sort of power over you?
Fixed it for me maybe? I hope this time?
I often visit these “free thinker blog”s because I appreciate looking at viewpoints opposite from what I hold. There are many misconceptions about Christians and conservatives that are expressed here that many of you have bought in to this discussion that are not true, and one good one that is true. You are pretty correct about the efforts of many to support pro-life cause and not do something more about supporting adoption. I often wonder what it would be like if every family that wanted children would adopt one child for every three they have naturally. In the US over 90% of unwanted children born are not adopted. As far as who is adopting, these statistics are offered by “adoption.org”:
Christians. According to EthicsDaily.com, 5 percent of practicing Christians in the United States have adopted, which is more than twice the number of all adults who have adopted. In addition, a survey showed that 38 percent of practicing Christians had seriously considered adoption, while only 26 percent of all adults had.
Caucasians. Most adoptive parents (73 percent) are non-Hispanic white adults, according to a study by the Barna Group. However, they are less likely to adopt a Caucasian child. Only 37 percent of children adopted are Caucasian.
It just breaks my heart to hear how callously we say it’s ok to abort babies, all for the sake of the health of the mother. Maybe you’ll get into this later but it has to be understood that intercourse takes two. If a woman makes a conscious choice to engage in sexual relationships, be it understood that pregnancy can be a consequence. Sexual morals are so loose and many youth see engaging in sex as a rite of passage to adulthood. Now before you all go off about the women who are forced or coerced into sexual activity, there becomes an even greater responsibility to the males (I won’t call them men) to also understand that pregnancy can result from their desire for satisfaction from intercourse. How many of the abortions performed are on young girls trafficked or by women coerced by boyfriends. In a more chaste world, there would be far less unwanted pregnancies.
And for those who enjoy bashing Christians, please make sure you understand bible examples IN CONTEXT! Barbara Bowers (and others) can pick and choose and twist all of the Bible examples they want but that doesn’t mean that God is barbaric or sadistic. Mockers are going to mock and haters are going to spew hatred. That’s not who God (in Jesus) is. I could go on but a better perspective about God and Life can be found in Psalm 139:13-16 and in Luke 17:1-3. Death was a natural consequence because of man’s choice of disobedience. Fortunately, God provides a way out of eternal death…for all! Thanks Sarah for posting this. You may be one democrat but pro-life democrats are few and far between.
And here’s a prime example of an anti-choice apologist who completely ignores the very-real risk to the life, health, and finances of the woman actually carrying the zygote/embryo going so far to say it is “callous” to consider the actual human involved in the pregnancy. I find that to be very insulting and disrespectful, Dr. Sarah, how do you not?
Yannoupoika, are you referring to the Evangelical Christian “mission” (“charge”?) to see who can adopt the most non-Caucasian babies and raise them to be Christians? From the late 1980s – mid-2000s, there were Christian families adoping multiple non-Caucasian babies, particularly from non-USA countries. There’s a lot of information out there about how these children fared; many were neglected and abused, and a shocking number were killed by their parents.
Several people who grew up in the evangelical faith have written extensively on the topic, including LIbby Anne (formerly of Freethought Blogs, now at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/) and Suzanne (of https://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/).
Courtney Crance says
As a medical professional I would like to leave some facts here about fetal viability and when a fetus becomes “a person”. If you want me to make a hard delineation it is when it can survive outside of the womb. Current medical science says that at 26 wks gestation the fetus has about 85% chance of survival with intervention and has a 10% chance of severe disability. At 22 wks gestation the fetus has a less than 5% chance of survival without intensive intervention (most studies show lower, near the 1% mark) and those that survive have a 35% chance of devastating disability (unable to eat, breathe or any self care without intervention) and 100% of these cases involve at least one severe morbidity requiring invasive intervention (surgery or other invasive procedure) in the NICU. If people want to use person hood as a pro-life argument then fine, no abortions past “person hood” (aka viability) but once the fetus is delivered then they have the responsibility to care for and make decisions for the new person. It may sound callous but when you put it in stark scientific form for people they have to actually think about the individuals involved. Those people who are anti-choice (“pro-life”) would have to convince me with scientific information of something different prior to getting any farther into the argument once they bring person hood into the mix. Now this does not take into account any of the other necessary discussions that are going to be brought up such as choice and responsibility. This is simply a discussion of person hood and where medical science is in reality. You can say all you want that an embryo or zygote is a person but if it can’t survive outside of the body then it is not in reality. I also understand that this is not a one size fits all answer because then people will say that this could be said about people requiring life support for survival or people who are incapacitated in other ways but that also is a totally different discussion. We are discussing person hood in a fetus.
All that being said, I am a hard line pro-choice advocate and have seen the data to confirm that Andreas is correct in the assertion that the overwhelming majority of abortions past the point of “viability” are heart wrenching, painful decisions that are not taken at a whim. I know of no medical practitioner that would perform a “late term” abortion without significant counseling for the parent(s) based upon the trauma involved.
I’ve been long winded enough so thank you for reading til the end of this soliloquy.
Thanks, Courtney, for injecting facts and reality.
The anti-choicers believe they should be able to control women everywhere, based on their interpretation of a book that’s interpreted many thousands of ways by many thousands of Christian sects, all sure they’re the “right” version. Pro-choice people believe the choice should be made by the woman who is pregnant, in conjunction with her doctor.
@21. yannoupoika :
Babies aren’t generally* aborted, feti, zygotes or embryoes are, you keep choosing to use an emotive and inaccurate word to frame the debate in a way that suits your argument.
What do you mean by that precisely? It seems to me that sexual morals have improved and are continuing to improve at least in many countries and cultures influenced positively by Feminism to the extent that women are now no longer treated as property and the emphasis has shifted to consenting adults which is more ethical and less toxic and harmful isn’t it? Presuming you disagree with that then why exactly?
When you say “chaste” what exactly do you mean by that? Do you really support the whole idea of abstinence policies and that approach because that’s been tried and the stats and verdict on that is decisively in. it doesn’t work and only makes things worse :
Source : https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs-and-policies-are-failure
I’d suggest that good sex positive education and access to reproductive healthcare incl abortions is actually far better at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Its obviously hard to say accurately but probly that would be only a tiny percentage the majority of abortions. I agree that coercion and lack of consent is a serious issue and, again, empowering women economically and by giving them a fuller education is a good remedy for this as well as law enforcement against the criminals responsible for trafficking and addressing the root causes of such poverty and desperation that drives these things.
So, first it was Betty Bowers (not Barbara) and secondly, what context exactly changes the actual meaning of the words and verses specifically cited there and how precisely?
Oh and finally, God’s sadism and barbarity isn’t actually the topic here although I think given a lot of the verses in the Bible there’s a very strong case for arguing both of those allieviated only by gods non-existance. Incidentally I don’t hate god because of that last factor. Though I’d also ask which god and which versionof presumably the Christian god you mean since there are so very many and competing ones.
* From what I understand the exceptions here almost always occur in situations where the baby is wanted but has some form of defect or medical issue where it is non-viable or likely to kill the mother unless aborted.
Dr Sarah says
Hi, all, and sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to the debate! I’m going to answer the above comments, although I won’t answer every single one as some of them are covering the same ground.
@Matthew Currie #3:
‘So far so good, but the question on descendants seems an odd one.’
I think that one made perfect sense from his perspective; remember, he’s looking at this as analogous to the slavery debate. If you asked children brought up in pro-slavery families about slavery, they’d probably hold similar views to their parents because that was what they’d been taught while growing up and they probably wouldn’t have many opportunities to hear other views; if you fast-forwarded a few generations so that anti-slavery views had had more chance to spread, then you’d get a different view. However, I’ve explained why that analogy doesn’t hold up very well for the abortion debate.
Incidentally, I’ve barely discussed abortion with my children, but my twelve-year-old recently told me with utter vehemence that she thinks it’s terrible to be against abortion because she doesn’t think it right to give birth to children who are going to be unhappy (which isn’t even my reason for being pro-choice, so won’t have been a view I mentioned to her even in passing).
Dr Sarah says
@Katydid (combining replies to several comments here):
#4: ‘Here’s my two cents: these arguments for the “humanity” of the zygote/embryo/fetus always ignore the humanity of the person who’s carrying the z/e/f. Isn’t that strange?’
I’ve seen it called the ‘Woman? What woman?’ argument.
‘On the issue of when a fetus becomes a person; the Bible and the Tanach are very clear that it’s at first breath.’
Curious; don’t know anything about this being in the Bible so was wondering where this came from? (I think the rule in the Tanach is that it’s once the head or the greater part of the body has been born, or at least that’s what I remember reading.)
I agree that the Bible doesn’t come out against abortion, which, if you think about it, is pretty damning for someone who’s against abortion but also believes that the Bible is God’s instructions to humankind. For most of human history, we haven’t known enough about fetal development to make any deductions about when life starts; yes, a lot of people concluded that it starts at conception, but there have been others who thought it started at quickening, or at arbitrary time periods after conception. So, you’d think that if there’s a God who believes that abortion is wrong from conception onwards due to chromosomal count or potentiality of development or whatever, that God would make that fact very clear to humans from the start because he’d know that they could not otherwise know this. So, since abortion isn’t mentioned in the Bible, surely that means that either the Bible isn’t really the word of a divine being, or it’s the word of a divine being who isn’t bothered by abortion. I’d go for option 1, as you can probably guess, but neither looks good for a pro-life Christian.
#7: ‘It’s certainly true that the loudest voices claiming to want to nurture life are the very ones demanding people ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’.’
Yes, I’ll have quite a bit to say about this when we get to question 6.
#15: apology gladly accepted. It’s marvellous that you work as a foster mother. From what I’ve read, it sounds as though the US system is horrendously underfunded and badly-run. (Not that the UK system is doing brilliantly as far as funding goes, but what I’ve heard about the US system sounds worse.)
‘There absolutely are children born into foster care who age out; I had two. One came to us at 6 months, the other at 11 months. Both were born with special needs that my insurance considered “preexisting conditions” so they remained in the foster system–which paid for the special care they needed–but they were “my” children and are still “my” children even though both are adults living adult lives.’
That’s a very good point; children with severe disabilities are much less likely to get adopted. (By the way, the final thing that turned me around from being pro-life to being pro-choice was reading the story of a woman seeking abortion because, as well as knowing she couldn’t yet raise a child herself, she also knew that, due to the medication she was on, she had a high chance of having a child with a disability that could end up being unadoptable. Reading her story of having an abortion she never would have wanted to have while being harassed by Operation Rescue types picketing the clinic… well, it was the final straw that broke the back of my pro-life beliefs.)
#16: ‘I once had a co-worker who insisted he “knew so many women who were *ONE MINUTE* from giving birth and decided to abort!”’
(snort) I take it he’s never attended a birth in his life, then?
(I spent about a year and a half on an abortion debate newsgroup at one point. Lost count of the number of times we went through some version of (Pro-lifers) Women are having abortions five minutes before birth! (Pro-choicers) Really? Give us some examples. (Pro-lifers) (crickets)
#24: ‘based on their interpretation of a book that’s interpreted many thousands of ways by many thousands of Christian sects’
Small dissent here: IME, pro-life beliefs came first and the pro-life interpretations of the Bible were based on that, not vice versa. It only seems to be the Christians who’ve already decided they’re pro-life who read the anti-abortion interpretations into the Bible.
Dr Sarah says
‘I have a question. Why do so many people who consider themselves “pro-lifers” shame unmarried women who don’t let their ova die?’
That seems to come from combining the following beliefs:
• Abortion is wrong
• Unsanctioned sex is wrong
• Shaming women who’ve had unsanctioned sex is either a) an effective method of getting them to change their shameful slutty ways, or b) so much fun we don’t care that it’s backfiring.
It’s at the third point that things really tend to fall apart.
Dr Sarah says
‘I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot of privilege in the abortion debate. There’s an assumption that the pregnant woman will get halfway decent health care during and after the pregnancy, and that the child will grow up in a well-off, functional family.’
To be fair to the person who wrote the original post, he’s from the UK (as am I) and thus the ‘halfway decent health care’ assumption actually is a fair assumption over here, since at least a pregnant woman here is not going to be faced with the issue of being unable to afford healthcare. However, I agree with the rest of what you said.
‘Somewhat off-topic, but: when “pro-lifers” use the argument, “what if your mother had aborted you?” I want to say: I would have been better off if she had. We weren’t even poor, but my growing up was a living hell and a hell that has never really left me, to the point that for much of my adult life I thought it was a mistake that I hadn’t killed myself back then.’
I’m very sorry to hear that; I hope things get much better for you.
I do think the ‘what if your mother had aborted you?’ argument is essentially appealing to people’s selfishness. (I remember a time back on talk.abortion when someone tried the ‘what if your mother had had an abortion?’ argument and was countered by a pro-choicer telling the story of how she wouldn’t have been born without abortion, as it was only because of her mother’s two previous abortions that her mother had eventually been in a situation to meet her father. The pro-lifer who’d tried the argument was quite annoyed by this and snapped back “So, are you saying you’re more important than they were?” I remember thinking “Well, that was pretty much the implication you wanted to play on when you thought it was going to work in your argument’s favour.”)
Dr Sarah says
[on adoption] ‘Too many kids are passed over, though, for purely selfish “reasons” like being too old, not white enough, and for having disabilities or other complex needs.’
Well… you know my feelings on this as we’ve discussed it elsewhere, but I do want to add that I think it’s a big problem to use ‘selfish’ for ‘not volunteering to take on a massive long-term job with huge potential to go wrong’.
It’s like the times people use ‘selfish’ to describe women who don’t want children at all, or who choose to have abortions. What’s the difference between ‘I can’t, realistically, deal with the difficulties that will ensue if I continue this pregnancy, so I’m going to have an abortion’ and ‘I can’t, realistically, deal with the difficulties of taking on and bringing up a child with complex needs, so I’m not going to adopt from the foster system’?
Dr Sarah says
@Pierce R. Butler, #9: We don’t know whether he will or won’t, so let’s not make assumptions.
Dr Sarah says
@Crip Dyke, #11: Thanks for some excellent thoughts and contributions to the debate; I’m looking forward to reading your take on coming questions when I have those up.
With regard to the small disagreement over the word ‘rights’, I think this is because I used the word to mean ‘moral right’ and you’re using it to mean ‘legal right’. Actually, thinking about it, I did swerve into using the word to mean ‘legal right’ when I was talking about organ donation, so that probably wasn’t the clearest thing; thanks for your helpful comments on this point.
Dr Sarah says
‘I recently wrote about parents who wish they had remained childfree (here https://freethoughtblogs.com/andreasavester/2020/03/06/parenthood-regrets-parents-who-wish-they-were-childfree/ ), and holy shit some people really cannot tolerate mothers who don’t like being parents.’
I know. I find this extraordinary; raising my two children (whom I do want and am very happy to have) has only made me all the more aware of how important it is to think actively about the choice to have children and only plan to have them if you really do want to take on the job of raising them and feel up to doing so. I find it extraordinary, and very worrying, that so many people think it right to expect everyone to be parents or to try to push people into this.
For comparison, I’ve willingly taken on two enormous and worthwhile commitments in my life; being a doctor, and being a parent. When I was making plans to go to medical school, I remember the adults in my life being very careful to tell me about how much work it would be and how I had to think hard about whether or not I wanted to take on the job. Can you imagine if we gave that same message to everyone regarding the thought of parenthood? If we stressed that only those who really want to take on that enormous job should do so, and let people know that it’s fine not to.
‘[me] Most people don’t want a situation where a person can legally decide to abort at any time up until birth.
[you] I do believe that abortions must remain legal during the whole pregnancy time period.’
For clarification, I made that statement as a description of general attitudes, not as support for that position. BTW, the law in the UK is that abortion is legal at any time during the pregnancy in the case of risk to the pregnant person’s life, risk of ‘grave permanent damage’ to their health (whether physical or mental), or substantial risk of serious disability in the child. Abortion for any other reason is legal up until 24 weeks. I’m OK with that as a law (although I would still like to see it changed with regard to the current requirement to get permission from two doctors).
‘When a mother’s health is in danger or tests confirm that the baby is incompatible with life, an abortion becomes a necessity’
Small but important point: Even in those terrible circumstances, there are women who will choose not to abort (especially in the case of the baby being incompatible with life; some women find it a comfort to continue the pregnancy to its natural end, while others want to abort as soon as they find out rather than wait for bitter inevitability). Even in those circumstances, it has to be the woman’s choice.
‘Here https://jezebel.com/interview-with-a-woman-who-recently-had-an-abortion-at-1781972395 is one story of a woman who needed a late term abortion due to a medical problem—it was a wanted child, but tests confirmed that the baby was incompatible with life.’
I’ve read that article; that was such a very, very sad situation. In fact, I think I’ll link back to that when I answer question 3, so thanks for finding the link.
Thank you for your contribution.
Dr Sarah says
@StevoR: That’s quite a strange Bible verse. I wonder what the social context originally was? (The one month limit actually does make sense; neonatal mortality would have been sky-high in those days, so I can see how people figuring out the monetary value of different groups might see a baby that young as having no monetary value.)
Thanks for all your well-thought-out comments, typos and all!
Dr Sarah says
‘I often visit these “free thinker blog”s because I appreciate looking at viewpoints opposite from what I hold.’
Love that, because I do exactly the same in reverse; I visit Christian apologist blogs to read them. 🙂
‘It just breaks my heart to hear how callously we say it’s ok to abort babies, all for the sake of the health of the mother.’
Believe me, there are many of us who find it callous when people dismiss women’s health as though it was an unimportant issue.
‘If a woman makes a conscious choice to engage in sexual relationships, be it understood that pregnancy can be a consequence.’
The issue is not that we somehow fail to understand that basic fact of biology, but that we disagree with your assumption that ‘X is a consequence of Y’ means ‘If you do Y and X then results, you have no right to do anything about X’. It’s like saying that because stomach ulcers can be a consequence of taking painkillers, that means that if you get an ulcer from taking painkillers then you shouldn’t do anything to treat the ulcer. I hope that sounds ridiculous to you as an example; if so, that illustrates that the argument ‘X is a consequence of Y, so therefore if you do Y and X results then you shouldn’t do anything about X’ is a fallacious one.
‘Sexual morals are so loose’
This is a common issue amongst pro-lifers (and even commoner amongst those anti-abortionists who really can’t be described as ‘pro-life’, which is something I’ll get into a lot more in my next post); a particular sexual morality and a disapproval of those who don’t agree. In these cases, a stance against abortion typically becomes less about fetal life and more about opinions on sexual morality.
‘Now before you all go off about the women who are forced or coerced into sexual activity, there becomes an even greater responsibility to the males (I won’t call them men) to also understand that pregnancy can result from their desire for satisfaction from intercourse.’
Are you seriously thinking those are the best two concepts to put together into one sentence?? If a person is forcing or coercing others into sexual activity, I think that the fact that pregnancy can result is actually not the most important thing they need to understand there. The most important thing they need to understand is that rape and coerced sex are wrong and need to stop.
‘In a more chaste world, there would be far less unwanted pregnancies.’
Firstly, I know this is nit-picky and not the issue here, but… FEWER! The word you want in that context is FEWER unwanted pregnancies, not ‘less’! ‘Less’ is a word for describing an uncountable quantity; ‘fewer’ is a word for describing a countable quantity. If you’re going to moralise about sex, could you please at least do so grammatically?
Secondly: yes, it’s true that if people had heterosexual sex less often then we’d have fewer unwanted pregnancies. (It’s also true that if people were a lot better at contraception then we’d have fewer unwanted pregnancies, which is likely to be a much more realistic goal.) That doesn’t change the fact that unwanted pregnancies still happen, and will still happen to some extent even in a more chaste and/or better-contracepted world, and also that there will sometimes be reasons why pregnant people have to seek abortion of wanted pregnancies due to heartbreaking chances in circumstances.
‘Fortunately, God provides a way out of eternal death…for all!’
I’m going to take a wild guess here that you’re talking about Jesus. If so, that should actually be ‘all who live/have lived in a time, place, and society in which learning the Christian message was actually an option and who believed it after consideration’ which in fact works out as a rather small proportion of all humans.
Dr Sarah says
@Courtney Crance, #23: Good to see another medical professional on here! What do you do? (I’m a GP in Great Britain.) Thank you for answering.
Dr Sarah says
Next one’s up, guys; hope you enjoy.
Courtney Crance says
I’m a GP in the states with a focus on women’s health. We are definitely a dying breed here due to very low profit margins but that puts me in a position where I come across a lot of women in these positions. It’s heart achingly brutal to help them navigate a shitty system. Wishing you the best and thank you for writing about this so clearly.
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
@Dr. Sarah — The same people who pass over these kids are also the ones who spend the equivalent of several college educations on having “their own” kid, as if that’s any guarantee that the kid won’t end up having complex needs.
@Dr. Sarah; thank you for your kind words, but I think you don’t have any idea of just how bad American medical insurance can be. I am not a hero and the congenital issues my kids had were nothing serious. Both had hearing loss which could be ameliorated by hearing aids and therapy, but because they were “pre-existing conditions”, my insurance would cover the cost of hearing aids or speech therapy or any of the other things that went along with it. As foster children, my kids’ medical care was covered (to the tune of about $15,000/year of hearing-related expenses apiece, or $30,000/year for both). My husband and I were advised not to adopt for just this very reason, but it was a nudge-nudge-wink-wink arrangement where everyone knew they were our kids; we just had social workers dropping in periodically to make sure they were being cared for.
Fact was, children even as mildly inconvenienced as my kids would be highly unlikely to be adopted in the USA. There are literally tens of thousands of perfectly healthy kids in the system who age out every year. With medical and therapy, both kids went to college and are now married and employed. As a child with Deaf parent, I was comfortable with that level of assistance.
Andreas Avester says
You are correct, my phrasing there was careless. Of course, I am aware that in such painful and complicated situations parents can make different decisions for various reasons, and all of those would be valid decisions. I meant that if parents have chosen that they want to terminate their non-viable pregnancy, then a late-term abortion is a medical necessity and not just a whim that people could live without.
Laws in Latvia are somewhat similar. For the first 12 weeks you can do what you want, afterwards you get an abortion only for health problems with a doctor’s approval. In general, here it seems to function fine, I do not see in the media articles about how some woman’s life was endangered or her health hurt, because a Christian doctor refused her a medically necessary abortion. Here hospitals are secular and most people, including doctors, are either non-religious or have non-strict religious beliefs. Thus they can make reasonable decisions on a case by case basis.
The problem is that in more religious countries wording like “grave permanent damage” turns out to be tricky. I have read about cases where American doctors sent bleeding and very sick pregnant women back home, because these women were not dead yet and the fetus still had a heartbeat, thus doctors refused to perform an abortion. When problems arise during a pregnancy, predicting whether there will be “grave permanent damage” can be complicated. How can you be 100% certain that there will be “grave permanent damage”?
Here are some examples of how things can go terribly wrong when doctors feel compelled to wait and search for a heartbeat fearing legal risk for themselves in case they perform an abortion on a live fetus: https://rewire.news/article/2019/09/25/miscarriage-catholic-hospital/
The reality is that in some countries pregnant people still suffer unnecessary, have their health permanently worsened, or even die just because doctors are reluctant to perform abortions in cases where it is necessary for medical reasons.
Responding only to the part I disagree with.
Yea, the libertarian classic… “I don’t have any duty to preserve the life and limb of others. In fact, any duty towards others. Period.“, “I have an absolute right to keep all what is mine and not being burdened in any conceivable way and have the right to do anything, including killing people in bulk, if that’s what it takes.”
( Previews says “Anonymous” not “daverytier” even though I logged in, I hope it won’t be the case once I post for real. )
… oh well… waiting to be whitelisted …
In the mean time, just make one thing clear. I am not arguing for forced birth. I am arguing that this line of argument is wrong on multiple levels and should be dropped in favor of valid arguments.
Dr Sarah says
I really don’t want to use the type of argument that consists of ‘I shall summarise your words in a way that utterly strawmans and misrepresents them’, so please stop me if you think I’m doing that here, but I truly cannot see a way of interpreting your comment here as other than:
(Me): People should not have the right to make this particular demand of other people which would violate their bodily autonomy and have massive potential negative impacts.
(You): You’re obviously a libertarian who doesn’t think anyone should have any sort of obligations towards others.
So… maybe you could clarify how you got from ‘don’t think people are under obligation to do X’ to ‘don’t think people should have any obligations to do anything’?
@44 I don’t think there is a straw man there. If one assumes we do have the duty to protect other’s life and limb and don’t have the right to kill people to preserve their property ( resources, time, comfort, etc ) it falls apart because then you just can’t kill someone to preserve your ‘bodily autonomy’ anymore than you can dump stowaways over board from your yacht.
Well, you will say that your body is a different, special kind of property and other libertarians will of course disagree and the whole argument thus devolves into special pleading.
Er… no. The body is not property at all. Typically, property is something you acquire, and it is always something you can in at least some circumstances sell, give away, or be robbed of, while remaining yourself.
Birth. Not only does the newborn then become anatomically separate and physiologically independent of another body, but radical changes occur in the circulation, nervous system (there’s considerable evidence fetuses are effectively sedated throughout pregnancy) and other systems.
A. Noyd says
My body is not a thing that I possess; it is the thing that I am. If you’d call that special pleading, you don’t know the meaning of the term.
In fact, the difference between our bodies and our property is so fundamental to us humans that even when we figured it was okay to buy and sell other people’s bodies without their permission, we had a different word for it than for doing the same thing with other people’s property.
daverytier @45: In addition to the responses of KG and A. Noyd, do you really think there is no limitation whatsoever to one’s duty to protect another’s life? Because in any minute someone somewhere is dying and you could be doing something to make that person live a little bit longer. Besides, if you have 2 kidneys you have been shirking your duty. So I think it should be obvious that the duty to protect others has limits, and discovering those limits is meaningful and important. If you disagree that the autonomy of one’s body is a relevant principle to the definition of those limits then what exactly prevents random people from laying claims to various of your body parts that could potentially save and extend their lives?
Yep. And there are more. Different processes and phases start and stop. Plenty of discrete transitions to pick from. But birth would be the choice, given
is in fact the case (links, please 😉 ). If not, I got a backup that happens just a few weeks before that. Also, with considerable evidence. Unfortunately it seems to contradict the sedation claim, so let’s sort this minor disagreement the way it always should be done – by evidence.
No, of course it is not. But that’s even more reason to drop the egotic “it’s MINE, so if I have to kill others to get it rid of them, then so be it” line of “argument”.
Yes, contrary to the libertarian claim, your body is something else than just property, see #46 above your comment. But you can’t claim your body is identical with you either. Otherwise your existence would not end with brain death, but only when it finally disintegrates. ( it would also have the side-effect of your existence starting at the conception, just like the forced birthers say )
RLY? Com’ on. Do your in all sincerity think that that having duty to protect other people’s life and limb is slavery ? That’s not just libertarianism, that’s anarcho-capitalism.
I never said there are no limits. There of course must be. For example, duty to die to save the other would be self-contradictory because then the one dying would have also the duty to die to prevent you from sacrificing his/her life. So it has to be less than that.
One can also make the same argument for property – “what exactly prevents random people from laying claims to various your belongings that could potentially save and extend their lives?”. And also, the situation is not that you just passively deny the use of your body parts to random strangers coming for them. It’s that you would have to actively kill someone who is temporarily and involuntarily using your body parts. Thus ending his/her bodily autonomy completely and permanently.
So I propose a better limit – you have the duty to protect other people’s life and limb as long as doing so doesn’t cause harm or significant risk of harm to your own life and limb. So you don’t have the duty to jump into collapsing buildings, risking pointless death, nor giving up chunks of your body to random strangers.
There are many things that do not cause significant harm to our respective lives and limbs that we could all be doing to save and extend lives. If we are not required to do them then I don’t see why a pregnant person should be required to remain pregnant.
Also, I disagree with you that abortion is accurately described by ‘ you would have to actively kill someone who is temporarily and involuntarily using your body parts.’. Other than abortion in the case of fetal abnormalities, abortion is the denial of the use of one’s body by the embryo/fetus, not actively killing the embryo/fetus. If there were a way for the embryo/fetus to survive and be raised by another the needs of the pregnant person can be fully served without the death of the embryo/fetus. That death is the side-effect of abortion in the majority of cases, not its goal.
A. Noyd says
I don’t think we have to drop a strawman argument you made up yourself.
Or, perhaps, my position is a wee bit more complicated than you want to make it.
The point about slavery was simply to show that making a distinction between bodies and property is the default position, not special pleading. Maybe if you stopped trying to shoehorn everything into inappropriate political/economic terms, you’d understand better.
Fetuses don’t have bodily autonomy. By definition, they’re dependent on the body of the pregnant person to survive. That’s why it’s difficult and not useful in the case of abortion, to separate the idea of “active” vs “passive” killing.
Uh huh. That’s already a thing. Pro-choicers have been trying to get people to recognize that pregnancy constitutes a significant risk of harm for a long time now.
daverytier@49 Fetal awareness/sedation reference – apologies for the delay, I only visit this blog occasionally. Even if fetal sedation turned out not to be universally the case, birth would still be a far clearer transition than anything else between conception and death.
united states iptv vip says
Say, you got a nice blog.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.