Patterico's Pontifications


A Discussion of Abortion — Part Four: Summing Up Today’s Comments

Filed under: Abortion,General — Patterico @ 9:33 pm

I appreciate all of the comments people have been making on this week’s abortion posts. There are people coming at the question from all sides, which is great. What is even better is that we have shown that the issue can be debated without the seemingly inevitable descent into name-calling or nastiness. Almost without exception, the discussion has been respectful and substantive.

Have we reached a consensus on how to view incipient life, and what power the state has to regulate abortions? Of course not. It’s hard to imagine that our society ever will. But I have so far noticed some startling points of agreement.

Notably, all sides seem remarkably tolerant of other positions, to a degree that would seem unthinkable to those who are used to watching “talking heads” scream at each other on television. Most of you recognize that reasonable people can disagree with you about some aspects of your opinions.

For example, those who fervently believe life begins at conception almost uniformly understand that many Americans disagree with them on core issues, such as whether abortion should be permitted in cases of rape. They are willing to settle for something less than their view of perfection in terms of regulation. They just want the chance to persuade their fellow citizens to change the laws — something the courts have essentially prohibited for over thirty years.

Those who believe that a fetus does not enjoy full rights until viability turn out, when closely questioned, to be far less doctrinaire than the NARAL types you see on television. These commenters initially seem insistent that society not interfere in any way with a woman’s choice. But upon closer examination, they prove to be comfortable with the state’s deployment of resources to persuade a woman not to abort her child — as long as there is no coercion or criminal prosecution involved. They understand the potential moral problems inherent in turning over the decision entirely to the woman, and are willing to take non-coercive steps to encourage the woman to consider adoption or caring for the baby herself.

I think that, while most commenters approach the issue from different perspectives, most of you see something valid in the point of view expressed by AMac.

On the one hand, AMac argues that a fully developed person has greater moral status than an embryo. AMac argues that this is something that we all intuitively grasp. Even “life begins at conception” people can see this point. (After all, most of you are not so doctrinaire about your position that you consider abortionists to be murderers, in quite the same sense that you consider Charlie Manson and Richard Ramirez to be murderers. You may consider abortionists to be morally repugnant, but you do not celebrate violence against them.)

On the other hand, AMac says that a fetus deserves moral consideration before viability, beginning sometime in the 2 to 4 months window. He says it’s tough to draw a clear and exact line, but that as a fetus becomes more like a fully developed human, we should accord it greater moral respect, deserving of protection. I think that you “no regulation until viability” people can see his point here too. After all, most of you clearly recognize that abortion is not ideal, even before viability — and that it becomes less ideal the further the pregnancy develops.

Steve provides a link to James Q. Wilson’s essay, which inspired this series of posts, and quotes a particularly meaningful passage:

People treat as human that which appears to be human; people treat as quasi-human that which appears quasi-human.

The conundrum is with pregnancy, we start out with something that is clearly less than human, and end up with something that is fully human. The question is how we treat it in the meantime, and how to make the judgment.

AMac’s thesis suggests that there are shades of gray; that it is a continuous process of development that calls for judgment. But the question remains: just when does the fetus deserve moral respect to the point where society may have the right to get involved in some way?

What a great lead-in to tomorrow’s post.

Again, I think this is a remarkable exercise in civil discussion about a controversial topic. Thanks for participating.

A Discussion of Abortion — Part Three: How Flexible Is Your Position?

Filed under: Abortion,General — Patterico @ 7:18 am

We’re not quite where I thought we’d be in this discussion, so I am going to try to briefly recap where we are in the discussion, and ask another set of follow-up questions.

I am still seeing three basic positions.

Position #1 — Life begins at conception: Yesterday I asked these people questions designed to see how firm their stance is, such whether they would oppose abortion even for rape, and whether they support birth control. As to rape, Dana responded:

Abortion after rape is no different from abortion following consensual intercourse: a human life is destroyed. Yes, rape is a terrible thing, but it is less than murder; we ought not to murder a living human being because someone else is suffering.

As to contraception, Dana responded:

Oral contraceptives normally prevent the ovaries from releasing an unfertilized egg, which is unobjectionable. But oral contraceptives also prevent implantation of a human zygote if an egg was released and fertilized; that I do find objectionable. Thus, were I emperor, they would be outlawed.

Do other “life begins at conception” people agree with these statements? And if you do, do you recognize that most Americans don’t? Would you be in a favor of a compromise that recognized most Americans’ belief that women should not be forced to have a baby if raped? Can you live with the fact that most Americans believe women should have access to the morning after pill?

Position #2 — “No regulation until viability”: I haven’t seen an articulated rationale for the position yet. It seems to be simply assumed by these folks (biwah, for example) that the woman should have complete moral control over the fetus until it becomes viable. What I am missing is the why? Why does society have no say in the treatment of a non-viable fetus?

For example, I have seen an argument for abortion articulated as an analogy to a kidnapped hostage. The argument goes: the woman is a hostage to the baby for 10 months of her life. If you were suddenly linked to a famous violinist, and told that you had to drag this person around with you everywhere you went or she would die, would you be obligated to drag her around?

But the analogy doesn’t really hold, because (except in the case of rape) a woman generally makes a choice to have sex, and pregnancy is a known consequence of sex. Where does that choice fit into your argument, if at all?

Is her freedom absolute before viability? Could the woman do simply whatever she likes with the fetus, including deliberate torture?

If you believe the answer is no, then why not? If you believe the answer is yes, can you see how some Americans might disagree? Would you be okay with a compromise that respected the views of Americans with whom you disagreed on this issue?

Also: does society have any moral right to try to persuade the woman to have the baby? Not force — persuade.

I’d like to see these questions answered by the “no regulation before viability” folks on the thread.

Position #3 — The middle ground: Here I want to highlight a comment by AMac:

A 64-cell zygote doesn’t much resemble a person, to me. Compared to a 6-month fetus, it has a much lower chance of completing development (avoiding lethal genetic problems, spontaneous miscarriage, and the like).

Sometime in the 2 to 4 month time frame, an embryo becomes recognizable as a pre-human, sharing many of the features that a human exhibits as a born baby. So in my view, a fetus acquires progressively more right to “moral respect” in the 2-month to 9-month window.

It also seems to me that the mother isn’t a spectator, but another party with important claims to rights that are potentially in direct conflict with the fetus’ entitlement to moral respect.

Note that AMac is not talking about purely external resemblance, but resemblance to fully developed babies in every sense.

What do all sides think of AMac’s observation?

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