Comments: Is It OK to Abort Only Female Fetuses?

Congratulations in your glorious victory over Strawchoice.

Posted by dan at December 4, 2008 12:48 PM

I wholeheartedly disagree - first, "aligning" with sexism isn't a value-neutral act, it's supporting it. If someone passes an unjust law, say, requiring us to slap waitresses on the ass whenever we place an order, we shouldn't jubilantly declare, "Well, in these times!" and start slapping away - hopefully morality is internally- and not state-directed.

Second, a similar study came out a number of years ago indicating that the trend in selective abortion is positively correlated with income - that is, the higher your income, the worse the skew towards male births. There WAS a material reason: wealthier parents had more ability to use prenatal ultrasound to determine the sex of the fetus and decide to abort, and availed themselves of it. That's sexism, pure and simple.

Posted by saurabh at December 4, 2008 01:01 PM

first, "aligning" with sexism isn't a value-neutral act, it's supporting it

Even if one were to excuse all prospective parents on the grounds of "utilitarian considerations", that still wouldn't take away anyone's right to criticize. Chavelle's argument here seems to be "institutionalized sexism doesn't count," which is frankly fucking stupid.

Posted by dan at December 4, 2008 01:10 PM

Makes sense but I see absolutely no indication that pro-choice advocates care a whit about discussing moral or ethical arguments that don't lead directly to the "legal and right" assertion. You give them more credit than they are due-it is an ideological movement and impervious to subtlety.

From a free market perspective eventually female babies will become rare and valuable so their production will increase--after five or ten generations that is. Until then why should feminists mind if women are valued at a premium?

The Chinese have a name for their excess male population..."barren twigs" or something like that. Well, countries have always found extra men useful as slaves or soldiers, assuming they can prevent them from revolting.

Posted by Seth at December 4, 2008 01:17 PM

frankly fucking stupid

Look, I don't come to your house and spraypaint "frankly fucking stupid" on it. I limit my spraypainting of your house to reasoned critique. Please show me the same courtesy.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at December 4, 2008 01:32 PM

"From a free market perspective...."

Well, for starters, there is no such thing. It's not a good place to start. Said analysis is not a "good" place to start just about anything.

Besides, only females can produce. Isn't that, like, a monopoly.

My 2 cents: A very interesting post, Bernard. Philosophically, it may be spot on. Turning your analysis into an effective political argument strikes me as, uh, difficult. Care to expand?

Posted by bobbyp at December 4, 2008 02:13 PM

the impasse would be open to that if it had more to do with souls and less to do with girls' right to be sexual or with property values.

but really, how much life should we say a fetus has? shall we say life begins at 3/5? that wasn't a very good precedent the first time.

Posted by hapa at December 4, 2008 02:16 PM

...and if women do have the right to terminate pregnancy, then they should be able to exercise this right no matter what their reasons are. Frankly, I don't see a slightest problem here.

Posted by abb1 at December 4, 2008 02:58 PM

If its the woman's choice, then let her choose. Abortion is a form of population control and therefore a tool of social engineering. What right would I, as an an American, have to place my social values upon the people of Delhi? Its THEIR society and I'm SURE they know more than I on which direction they want to take their engineering, socially. (personally I'm pro life)

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 4, 2008 03:47 PM

The thing that existed before the rights came into being is still there.
Demanding that pregnancy and pregnant women and fetuses and babies and eggs and sperms and people in Nebraska all fit neatly into a manufactured concept that came into being after all those things already existed is intransitive, it is not going to ever be successfully met.
The assumption that life "begins" anywhere is false and wrecks the entire discussion. Life does not begin, life is already there.
For purposes of legal reckoning etc. various boundaries have been established, but they have no more real substance than the boundaries that depend on "mean high tide" or the center of a river.
They're markers of convenience. Everyone's trying to fit what is essentially a semiotic miracle into simple little containers marked "alive" and "not alive" and "human" and "not human".
These are not bogus terms but they have no definite or definable edges.
Women no more own their fertilized eggs than they own their grown children. There's nothing sacred about the interior of our bodies, as witness cavity searches.
Women, as mothers, have responsibilities which are more intensely engaged at one end of the continuum than the other, but ultimately those responsibilities are to life itself, no more to children as young humans than to the species itself even though their identities as mothers may be focused there.
The species itself, like a fetus, has no definite boundary line for its coming into being. One can only be drawn arbitrarily, artificially.
Once there were little shrewlike mammals, then there were small hairy primates, now there's us. No lines anywhere.
We can't talk about responsibility to life itself though, because of the demands that automatically kick in when we do; demands which run directly counter to our need for pleasure and convenience, and security.
And because without the artificial center of anthropomorphic identity there's no valance, no point from which to anchor the circumscription, the drawing of those outer boundaries.

Posted by roy belmont at December 4, 2008 04:43 PM

As a lawyer, I think it is interesting to drape this problem on the legal reasoning behind privacy rights, including the right to an abortion, in Roe v. Wade and its predecessors. In finding that women have a limited right to chose, the Supreme Court weighed the woman's interest in chosing not to carry a child to term against the government's interest in protecting "potential life." The Court found that the woman's interest in that equation outweighs the government interest, at least in the first two terms.

A woman's right to chose to abort only females raises entirely different interests on both sides of the equation. Now the woman's interest is in having only male children, and the state probably has a more powerful interest than the rather vague interest in protecting potential life. In this case, the state's interest might be protecting the gender balance in society, an interest that appears to me to be far more defensible than "potential life."

So, using the legal framework of Roe v. Wade, I think you can reasonably justify being pro-choice, but also being opposed to abortion for any reason whatsoever, particiularly when that reason can have a direct and drastic impact on society.

Another issue related to the same privacy rights also demonstrates the flexibility of the equation. What about the state that imposes a law requiring drug testing of pregnant women? While some might want to equate that to an invasion of bodily integrity, there is a different equation going on here with a much stronger state interest. Here all concerned want to see the child born. The woman's interest would be the right to not be tested or even the right to take illicit drugs. The state's interest could be termed as an interest in seeing that children are born healthy and not addicted to drugs. Again, the state's interest would outweigh the woman's in that equation.

Also, while I agree with the majority of what Mr. Belmont said, I don't agree with his comment that there is nothing sacred about the interior of our bodies, using cavity searches as an example. Again, the state cannot just willy-nilly peform body searches. They have to demonstrate a very good reason for such incredibly invasive searches under the law. Thus, the law does reflect the respect for a person's bodily integrity.

Posted by Joe Wilson at December 4, 2008 05:12 PM

You can't talk about responsibility to life itself also because the word 'responsibility' doesn't fit here. 'Responsibility' is a social or legal concept and that doesn't seem to be the meaning you're trying to express when you say that "women, as mothers, have responsibilities". Socially and/or legally they may or may not have these responsibilities, it all depends.

Posted by abb1 at December 4, 2008 05:22 PM

Thank you Bernard,

It's hard to find a principle that works in all contexts, but I think you've come very close!

Posted by Iron Butterfly at December 4, 2008 05:24 PM
the state's interest might be protecting the gender balance in society, an interest that appears to me to be far more defensible than "potential life."

allowing you then to abort stupid children in general or sickly children in general or even poor children, because they similarly weaken society. (mind you i just wrote a light-hearted thing recently about birth rate policy. i'm not against governments trying to keep their demographics from exploding or imploding.)

however rather than intervene in class-based abortions, the better principle would be to destroy any female social disadvantage, by policy. find out what the killings are about and stop the cause. if it's jobs, create jobs. if it's dowries, ban them.

Posted by hapa at December 4, 2008 05:26 PM

against the government's interest in protecting "potential life."

Does the government really have interest in protecting potential life? I don't see how the government suffers from potential life being aborted. The government could easily obtain more life, by admitting more immigrants, for example.

I can easily imagine the opposite situation, though, where the government (China, for example) suffers from too much life.

Posted by abb1 at December 4, 2008 05:32 PM

The Court did indeed feel that "potential life" was not a very strong state interest, something I would completely agree with.

Posted by Joe Wilson at December 4, 2008 05:43 PM

Hapa is mixing up the interest of the state and the woman. A woman would not abort a child with downs syndrome because it weakens society, she would abort it because she did not want to raise such a child. If she knows she is carrying a special needs child, she may have an even stronger interest in seeking an abortion than a woman who just does not want to carry the child to term.

The specter of government targeting social groups or unhealthy feti to abort raises a very different issue. There the state is not attempting to preserve life, it is attempting to end it. Thus, it implicates a very clear and indisputable personal right to bear children, not the right to seek an abortion.

Our government has certainly not attempted this. China, on the other hand, has encouraged abortions as a tool of population control. If society as a whole is directly threatened by over population of healthy or even sickly people, there is some legitimate state interest in encouraging abortions.

There is a big leap, however, from encouraging abortions to forcing abortions. Forcing abortions would amount to a such a tremendous invasion of personal rights that it would have to have a very strong state interest to justify such an act.

Posted by Joe Wilson at December 4, 2008 05:58 PM

Does India subscribe to Roe v. Wade within their legal system?

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 4, 2008 06:07 PM

*My colleague Peter Singer argues that killing a one-month old handicapped baby should be legal.*

I'm geniunely curious as to where he states this. From all I've read from Singer -and I mostly agree with him- he does like to give shocking examples but they are always a kind of reductio ad absurdum of certain premises or moral reasonings.

To me Singer has always been clear that sentience entitles beings to be considered as moral subjects, and these type of examples are meant to shock people into taking into account other sentient beings' suffering: they are meant to raise the bar, not lower it.

But I haven't read Singer for some 5 years, so maybe I'm missing someting. In any case, thanks for the post.

Posted by Federico Stafforini at December 4, 2008 06:45 PM

*My colleague Peter Singer argues that killing a one-month old handicapped baby should be legal.*

I'm geniunely curious as to where he states this. From all I've read from Singer -and I mostly agree with him- he does like to give shocking examples but they are always a kind of reductio ad absurdum of certain premises or moral reasonings.

To me Singer has always been clear that sentience entitles beings to be considered as moral subjects, and this type of examples are meant to shock people into taking into account other sentient beings' suffering: they are meant to raise the bar, not lower it.

But I haven't read Singer for some 5 years, so maybe I'm missing someting. In any case, thanks for the post.

Posted by Federico Stafforini at December 4, 2008 06:46 PM

hapa gets confused about a lot of things but in this case hapa saw banning abortions based on state-interest criteria as leading toward the state encouraging abortions as eugenics.

hapa noticed that joe wilson then endorsed actively aborting "bad" fetuses instead of addressing hapa's more conventional approach of the state cutting the motivation (and perhaps nutritional or other environmental causes) at the bud.

Posted by hapa at December 4, 2008 07:07 PM

So wait a minute: you're telling me that India, a major competitor to global dominance, is killing their breeding machines before they even get born? Sounds like something that all white people should get behind.

Posted by Solar Hero at December 4, 2008 08:00 PM

In short, you may blame the missing Indian baby girls on "one of the most stupendously sexist acts in which it is possible to engage," or you may be a regular pro-choicer and deny the fetus any moral status derived from personhood. But you cannot do both!

Of course you can. It's quite simple. The sexism is not against the fetuses, who are not moral persons, but against WOMEN and GIRLS who are born. The abortion of female fetuses is a reflection of attitudes to born, living girls and women.

As for your setting x=0 argument, it is unpersuasive:

It is unethical to assume anything but the worst, as one must always err on the side of prudence when a life is at stake.

No, one mustn't, not when other things beyond that life are at stake. Anything, or at least any form of mammalian life (could say any life capable of feeling pleasure/pain, if you're a radical vegan), "might" be a person. Putting that possibility, regardless of its strength, on the same level as actualities is ethically untenable. It's common in philosophy classrooms to claim that a possibility of a huge problem outweighs the actuality of a lesser problem, but real life would be unlivable if we actually did things that way most of the time. In every day life, the high-stakes possibility of getting hit by a car as I cross a busy street doesn't stop me from crossing the street, even for frivolous reasons like getting an unnecessary cup of coffee. Politically, the high stakes possibility of a terrorist attack doesn't lead me to support sweeping governmental powers to fight terrorism, even though the bad actual consequences of excessive power and detention/torture of innocents is less bad than the possibility of massive loss of life if terrorists do attack (assuming a marginally competent government that uses its powers to detain at least some terrorists).

I do like your arguments about the lack of an absolute right to be killed. But I disagree that abortion is always a tragedy. I fail to see why the death of a being without social interactions and relationships, without consciousness, without any attachment to life is a "tragedy," unless the pregnant woman carrying it feels it to be.

And the reason why pro-choicers were annoyed at Hillary's comment is that rhetoric about the "tragedy" of abortion is used to fuel anti-choice activities like "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (which give false information to pregnant women, to prevent them from aborting) and falsely claiming that abortion causes depression, psychosis or breast cancer.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 4, 2008 08:19 PM


Women no more own their fertilized eggs than they own their grown children.

Sure they do. Just like they own their livers, their uteruses, and everything else physically attached to them and dependent on their life's blood for existence.

There's nothing sacred about the interior of our bodies, as witness cavity searches.

You're comparing nine months of pregnancy and childbirth to a cavity search? A much better comparison would be organ donation, which cannot be forced, precisely because there is something sacred about the interior of our bodies, our physical selves and body parts.

Besides, even cavity searches can only be done to people who have been arrested for something. So even if childbearing was comparable to cavity searches, which is a comparison so detached from reality as to be funny, inflicting it on all fertile women is...er, ridiculous.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 4, 2008 08:24 PM

I'm white, female California born. I decided in 1970 that the world was overpopulated, and taking into account that I have a lot of relatives, felt sufficiently represented in the gene pool that I felt comfortable not reproducing. I have not regretted this choice. (I made sure I used impeccable birth control.)

Genetics:
Taken from a genetic standpoint, an organism is represented genetically by either a female or a male descendent. Changing the birth ration of males to females distorts the culture, but does not take away anyone's actual genetic legacy, except in the next generation, if one's progeny fail to breed -- which is generally a function of available resources (food, shelter) and politics (the means to apportion them unfairly). Males are less likely to have opportunities to breed, but the bet nature takes with a male is that a successful one can breed a lot.

Daughters who are unwanted will be brutalized and lead unhappy lives. Perhaps it is better for everyone to have happy sons than unhappy daughters. After all, one has the prospect of a fertilizable egg every month, but not the means to raise all of those "chances" as children.

Culture & environment:
Pressure against female offspring may be a symptom of overpopulation. In underpopulated areas, perhaps women are more precious. If people are too numerous, and the cultural adaptation is to reduce the number of breeders, the reduction in the FEMALE population is starkly logical. (You can have 10,000 men and 10 women; do the math on how many babies they can make in 10 years. Now reverse the sex ratio....)

Wisdom on the minimization of suffering:
As squeamish as we might feel about these choices, it strikes me as a much less brutal way of making adjustments to the population (save a lot of guys who won't be getting any dates) than the alternatives: war, disease, and famine.

Posted by Evelyn at December 4, 2008 08:28 PM

saurabh Not sure you're being fair to my argument. I personally agree with you that it's sexism pure and simple. I was only arguing from the point of view of pro-choicers who reject moral status for the fetus. Think about it this way: Suppose that in the morning I am in the habit of saying "Women are inferior and as a symbol of my belief I will flush a kleenex down the toilet." Clearly the statement is sexist but the act is not. If one day I skip the flushing this does not make me any less sexist. Now slapping a woman's posterior does cause moral harm to someone. But if you think an embryo is just an object like a kleenex and to destroy it causes no one any harm then the act of doing so cannot be sexist from your point of view (though it might be from mine). Therefore before you can call the act sexist you first need to disprove the prochoice assumption.

bobbyp I've proven more than once my total ineptitude at political activism. I expect pro-choicers to dismiss my arguments with spray-painted obscenities.

hapa Indeed, 3/5 is the worst fraction in the entire universe.

abba1 Yes, the violonist is a neat thought experiment. But I go further than Thomson in two ways: 1 she does not care that much about the moral tradeoff; 2. she grants personhood only as a debating position: she does not believe in it.

I fundamentally disagree with your I don't see a slightest problem here. I think you're going see that with bioengineering these ethical problems will become more and more serious, not less and less.

Also, you may not justify abortion on the basis of a right to terminate pregnancy. I mean, it's a circular argument.

roy No drawing of sharp lines. Exactly. A spectrum with counteracting moral forces is how I see it.

joe indeed, it's interesting whether the legal argument and the philosophical one (or for that matter the economic one) can be harmonized at all.

federico Can't remember where/when I heard him mention the 1-month time frame. But I googled for a minute and found this in the Independent: "Would you kill a disabled baby?"
Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.

Sorry I don't have the time now to go back to the source for the 1-month.

You have to feel for the guy. The Center for Human Values, where he works, has a metal detector... The man does not have only friends.

I disagree with much of what he says but I find his intellectual integrity admirable.

And anyone who values animals as he does can't be bad.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at December 4, 2008 08:55 PM

Rupa: I agree that abortion is first a moral issue. But you need laws, too, to say whether it's OK to act according to one's moral principles. As Joe pointed out, it's sometimes tricky to balance private interests with those of society at large.

I agree with you that society is much less polarized on that issue than one might think from listening to NARAL or Christian fundamentalists. The debate in some ways mirrors the one on gun control. (Most people actually more or less agree, but we fan the flames to keep the issue open.)

I didn't at all address the social aspect (back alley abortion and all the misery behind it), but it's extremely important.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at December 4, 2008 09:16 PM

OK, to simplify the debate:

- You are pro-choice or anti-choice. Declaring yourself 'pro-life' is cowardly horsebleep.

- If you are proudly anti-choice, state exactly what penalties should be imposed on women who terminate their pregnancies.

Frankly I find the moral/ethical dilemma far more easily addressed when presented in the above format.

Posted by Paulie Chestnuts at December 4, 2008 09:36 PM

If abortion is a moral issue, then it is a moral issue regarding what's happening inside someone's body. Someone else's body, in my case.

I support everyone's right to keep the government and the courts out of my fellow person's body.

Whatever decision that person arrives at, by whatever standard, is that person's decision. I have no say.

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at December 4, 2008 09:47 PM

The important question is whether one believes in sanctity of life

Happily, almost nobody does. I gather that some people do value all bacteria, but I have no problem calling their position stupid.

Bernard, I don't know if I even understand your point. I think Star Trek TNG gave an adequate definition of personhood when they considered Data's rights. Now, life that only meets some of their requirements, having consciousness but not self-consciousness for example, can easily have moral value. But a ball of cells plainly does not, and we have good reason to think a "fetus" can't have consciousness of any kind until late in the pregnancy. (Your wording ignores very early abortions; for all I know this may work in the context of the original issue, due to technological limitations, but it seems dishonest when you start attacking abortions for career choice or 'convenience'.) Nor can a fetus with no brain have any inherent moral significance.

The standard argument against abortion rights involves genetics and (when it helps their argument) appearance. Nobody's ever tried to explain to me how these factors could have inherent moral value in this case, when they normally do not.

I keep saying "inherent" because obviously any act might have moral significance through indirect effects on real people. As LadyVetinari points out, this creates another big problem with your argument:

Therefore before you can call the act sexist you first need to disprove the prochoice assumption. No you don't, and this part of your comment seems frankly laughable. "Sexist" doesn't mean what you appear to believe it means.

Posted by hf at December 4, 2008 09:48 PM

Bernard Chazelle

This is a very good essay. Thanks for posting it.

cemmcs

Posted by cemmcs at December 4, 2008 09:48 PM

Here's the deal on abortion:
if you're a girl you're right, if you're a guy SILENCE FOOL.

Posted by meshuga at December 4, 2008 10:16 PM

I wasn't calling you a fool Bernard. In fact, as usual you have analyzed it to a frightening degree. I want to stay on your good side lest you ever use your tremendous mental capacities to destroy me.

Posted by meshuga at December 4, 2008 10:22 PM

abb1:
Socially and/or legally they may or may not...
From a social and/or legal standpoint.
It's recursive once you step off the automatic sidewalk.

LadyVetinari:
Once you've erected that straw thing that says "Pregnancy is the equivalent of a cavity search"
you have no trouble demolishing it and anyone can see why.
What I actually said though was the interior of our bodies is no more sacred than the exterior or what's in the garage or anything else we can claim as "ours". The cavities of our bodies are subject to the law's demand, which has at its base the good of the larger group which has nothing to do with our personal ownership of what's in there because it's in there.
Sacred things don't have a linear connection to private ownership and property.
But I can also see why it would be easier to just make up something to argue with there, rather than engage the actual point.
Lurking down in the murk below these more accessible questions is the fact, not the idea but the plain simple fact, that people die to keep you(us) comfortable.
People died to get you there and people die to keep you there.
The fact that you don't have any direct contact with them or the mechanisms that comfort you and kill them doesn't change anything.
It's a kind of tacit predation. Like factory meat farms.
The ugly side of living removed to the margins of the estate so you can go on enjoying your lawn tennis and croquet, and those little sandwiches the cook makes when she's feeling appreciated.

Posted by roy belmont at December 4, 2008 10:30 PM

I once had the dubious pleasure of spending a few hours alone with Peter Singer. I asked him which 20th Century philosophers he admired. Wittgenstein? No. Rawls? No. Bertrand Russell? No. Heidegger? No. Chomsky? No. &c, &c.

Basically he winnowed the list down to himself, at which he point he consented to admire someone on the list.

Posted by Seth at December 4, 2008 10:38 PM

Paulie Chestnuts: Thought about what YOU are saying so I'm guessing Anti-Choice as I would desire that ALL people in India has as good a chance as I have at life even if they are handicapped at birth. They're starting to grow a middle class so's more folks have more chances.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 4, 2008 11:35 PM

Hi! I guess I disagree with this and respond with:

The idea therefore is to grant the fetus some level of personhood, which confers upon it moral status and the right to life. Wait! Doesn't this imply the right not to be killed, then? ... The answer is no.

I think it does. It does because I believe that meeting and/or not obstructing a person's preferences or interests is the arbiter of Right and Wrong. So in this case we are weighing the interests of the mother and the fetus. Both are "people", but the fetus to such a minimal extent that the mother's interest IMHO far outweight. I believe this is basically Singer's argument, but if not it is my current belief. (Obviously this means that pretty much ANY reason of the mother's is "valid": Even sexists ones.)

Posted by czrpb at December 5, 2008 12:16 AM

Bernard,
I fundamentally disagree with your I don't see a slightest problem here. I think you're going see that with bioengineering these ethical problems will become more and more serious, not less and less.

Of course there are problems around it, all over the place: socio-economic, cultural, political, etc. But in the narrow sense, as (if I understand correctly) you've chosen to frame it here, I don't see how this particular motivation would negate woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

Consider the common western analogy: woman gets pregnant - but she wants a career - she terminates the pregnancy. This is a commonly accepted scenario in the west, and how is it different? Same socio-economic, cultural, etc. issues here.

Rupa,
woman is NOT being a good samaritan because the foetus did not ask to be conceived

Sounds like you're talking about the case where the woman wants to conceived, then discovers it's a female and terminates. You have a point here, I haven't thought about it this way. Still. Even if you agreed to get linked to a violinist, I suppose you have the right to change your mind. Although this is a bit less convincing, I agree.

Posted by abb1 at December 5, 2008 03:22 AM

I'm a little bit drunk, but if I understand your argument here, Mr. Chazelle, you're saying that, if we don't view a fetus as a person then we have no compelling reason to condemn abortion, even if the abortion is performed to winnow out children who are female or disabled or have freckles.

I agree, and I do not, in fact, care why a woman has an abortion. To do otherwise is to say to a woman "You may not want this child, but god damn it you are going to give birth to it and take care of it." which, frankly, strikes me as an absurd thing to do.

Not to be rude, but I'm not sure I see the point of this exercise. I mean, it's interesting, but the underlying assumption seems to be that human beings form moral opinions based on carefully reasoned, internally consistent arguments.

My understanding, though, is that we form our opinions via a mostly unconscious, emotional process, and then come up with some sort of rationalization for it. The more emotionally fraught something is, the less likely I think people are to think about it in any kind of logical fashion.

My point is, I don't think the fact that an argument is consistent and logical actually makes it any more appealing or sellable.

Posted by Christopher at December 5, 2008 05:12 AM

I can't find where I have read this, but there is a correlation with income and the gender of your children. Lower class mothers tend to have more sons than daughters. If the economic and social conditions are the primary cause then this is largely a hypothetical issue.

I think its wrong to look at in terms of personal satisfaction, since no matter what decision a woman makes, it will be based on how it sits on her conscience. It is much better to think about what world you are bringing that child into. Let's assume women who abort are doing it because they think the child will not have a good life in the world, and women who go through with their pregnancy see abortion as something contributing to a bad world. Both are thinking about what is best for children. So is abortion something bad that needs to be 100% outlawed? Or is it necessary.. does it prevent an unequal and unfair hardship?

If we assume that women are aborting girls more than boys the question is why? Is she doing it because she herself will be more happy with a boy than a girl? Or is she doing it because she sees the world as a bad place for a girl to grow up in? If the former is the case, then is she absolutely entrenching institutionalized sexism? If the latter is the case, is being mindful of the sexism still being sexist, or is it right because you are protecting the girl from a distressing life in an unsafe world?

Posted by LT at December 5, 2008 07:06 AM

OK, Mike - fair enough.

Now, jail time for the mothers who abort their fetuses? Community service? Capital punishment?

Posted by Paulie Chestnuts at December 5, 2008 07:14 AM

I'm always agonized about this question. I can't imagine it being "resolved" unless somebody could tell me just WHEN a fetus ("baby," if you're anti-abortion) becomes a person it's wrong and illegal to kill. I assume most wouldn't advocate abortion up to the moment of birth--but then when? "When it's still unable to live outside the womb" used to be a rationale I don't hear much anymore, I guess mostly because there's no way of telling that about an individual being. I think of the Dionne quintuplets: There was no way in the world these tiny, almost-two-months-early, feeble infants could survive, especially in the primitive conditions that prevailed in the Canadian backwoods of 1934, but they all did.
I'm afraid the abortion question is a dilemma we'll never escape.

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at December 5, 2008 08:02 AM

I don't know whether or not somebody else has said this, as I haven't read all of the comments, so forgive me if someone has.

Your set up is wrong. You argue that if personhood is seen as a binary thing (to use your terminology) then we must assume that any human organism is a person from the moment of conception, because of the importance of the issue at stake. But this assumes that it's some kind of mystical thing which attaches itself to certain beings at certain times and not others, and that which things it might or might not attach itself to is completely beyond our ken. Or, to put it in a way that is less derisive, it assumes that we have no means of judging with certainty that a particular human organism at a particular time is not a person. This, however, is is not the case. We actually know some things about what it takes to be a person. In particular, it requires the capacity for thought; being a person requires having a mind (i.e. necessary condition for personhood.) And a single celled organism cannot have a mind. Therefore a human organism cannot be a person from the moment of conception.

Note that the fact that there is a vagueness issue when it comes to determining at which point a human organism becomes a person doesn't mean that we cannot identify points in the pregnancy at which it could not possibly be a person due to its lacking the appropriate complexity to yet have a mind. Being unable to identify an exact point at which a concept begins to apply does not mean that one cannot identify points at which it definitely doesn't apply.

You might argue that due to our lack of scientific understanding of consciousness and thought we cannot rule out the possibility that an embryo or a fetus in the early stages of development has a mind, and so might be a person. Therefore, in the name of prudence, we must assume the cut off point for personhood to be so early as to make abortion de facto indefensible, given the time it would takes to determine pregnancy in most cases. Such an argument requires both that we are in fact as ignorant about the nature of consciousness as is supposed and that there are no further necessary conditions on being a person which we can identify and which we can be sure that an embryo or fetus in the early stages of development does not meet. Neither of these things seems obvious to me-in fact, both seem unlikely-but I don't want the comment to end up stupidly long (too late?) so I'll just leave it there.

All that said, I'm definitely not interested in arguing that personhood is in fact 'binary' and not a matter of degree. But it's worth noting that if you're tempted to think that issues about vagueness tell against the 'binary' understanding of personhood, then you should ask yourself at which point exactly something stops being completely not-a-person and first begins to move up the personhood scale. There is vagueness here just as there is when trying to determine the correct application of the 'binary' understanding, and it's no less difficult to address. (Although this isn't a special problem for personhood, it's just standard sorites paradox stuff.)

Posted by Alexander Geddes at December 5, 2008 10:49 AM

Continuing with my interpretation of Singer: Do you eat chicken? Factory farmed chicken? If so, you are basically ok with treating a "person" (ie. a being that is aware and sentient to some degree) like crap; certainly against their interests (to the extent we can imagine chicken interests, specifically NOT living in cages for their whole lives). The argument is that you ought to be equally ok with treating like beings similarly. So if (big if?) we can agree that 2wk old babies are similar to chickens then you would be ok with treating them similarly.

But Singer is not arguing -- roughly IMHO -- that we DO that to human babies. That would be stupid. He is arguing that we NOT do that to chickens.

This matters in the abortion debate in that we treat much MORE sentient beings (say fish) in ways that are very much against their interests than an abortion could ever be against a fetus' at say 7wks. (This is NOT my abortion cut-off wk, just an early week where I do not believe it can honestly be argued that the fetus has any real/reasonable interests.)

Posted by czrpb at December 5, 2008 10:51 AM

in addition to the social pressures that Rupa Shah mentions, there is the fact that women earn less in general than men at all levels from agricultural to corporate. this puts an additional 'burden' on the part of the parents as in 'who will take care of us' etc.

of course, if we(indians) had some sort of safety net many such pressures would be eased. but alas, that is not even in the same planetary system currently, let alone the playing field.

Posted by almostinfamous at December 5, 2008 10:59 AM

But if you think an embryo is just an object like a kleenex and to destroy it causes no one any harm then the act of doing so cannot be sexist from your point of view (though it might be from mine). Therefore before you can call the act sexist you first need to disprove the prochoice assumption.

Suppose Alice and Bob are both mad scientists, and each has created a device that generates human children from vats of organic chemicals. As it happens, Alice's device produces only females, and Bob's, only males.

Soon an activist cult forms whose mission is to destroy all of Alice's devices, while preserving Bob's.

Could this not be considered a sexist endeavour?

Posted by SunMesa at December 5, 2008 01:13 PM

the reason I do not agree with abortion being made a legal issue is because I believe, it is a very private and personal matter

Defining it as a private matter is exactly what the legal issue is all about.

Posted by abb1 at December 5, 2008 02:14 PM

I find it rather sexist to impute that a woman who has an abortion to help keep her career is more morally liable than a woman who aborts a fetus of rape.

I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why a human fetus of any age is more deserving of legal/ethical considerations than a full grown pig or cow. Surely the latter have vastly more cognitive ability and perhaps even some comprehension of death. They have lives and personalities. And if we can blithely justify killing and eating these creatures in the massive numbers that we do, then turning around and condemning a woman for dealing with a bundle of cells gestating and feeding off of her OWN BODY strikes me as hypocritical (or, at the least, revelatory about one's priorities). When will your post on the troubling issue of animal rights be appearing, Mr. Chazelle?

A fetus is a parasite. It is fundamentally part of a woman's body-- a body that, incidentally, routinely aborts and reabsorbs these packets of human potential with as little ceremony as it kills pre-cancerous cells. And if I remove the issue of abortion as much from the moral sphere as I would the excision of tumor, then no, I don't feel I have any right to then condemn a woman for her reasons. I fail to understand, by the way, why issues of "designer babies" and future potential genetic manipulation should worry me. What is is not what ought, and no one has made much progress standing athwart history (or science) and yelling "stop!"

Posted by Alaya at December 5, 2008 02:37 PM

Could this not be considered a sexist endeavour?

Seems hard to say, since as I mentioned before we don't know what Bernard means by that word. According to the primary definition, yes, this act presumably stems from a belief in the superiority of one sex.

Posted by hf at December 5, 2008 02:51 PM

Paulie Chestnuts: I feel more inline with Rupa Shah above in that the issue is NOT unidimentional. As far as asking me to determine punishment for anything is a poor choice at best.
OUID PRO QUO Paulie, how about war? Kills more females than abortion, used for population control, social engineering, political resourse, finantial gain, how about YOU, pro-choice or anti-choice?

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 5, 2008 05:02 PM

Sorry, roy, I don't play lawn croquet. You did, in fact, compare pregnancy to cavity searches by arguing that the permissibility of the latter (in extreme circumstances, and only to those who have been arrested) implies the permissibility of the former (inflicted on all fertile women). Your argument makes no sense, and you are simply asserting that the interior spaces of our bodies are subject to the law's demands. Why should they be? Not every aspect of the individual has to be ultimately subject to the state.

And even if it's sometimes okay for the state to look inside our bodies to see if we're hiding deadly weapons, it doesn't follow that it's okay for it to commandeer our bodies, to force us to sustain others' lives with our organs and/or blood. We generally hold that this is far from okay. A uterus is not just a "cavity," which is a mere hole. It's an organ that can support a fetus. And pregnancy is a woman carrying a fetus around inside of her with all the massive physiological changes involved in that, not simply allowing someone to take a peek in one of her orifices.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 5, 2008 06:28 PM

I also think it's pretty obvious that something can be sexist (or racist, or any other -ist) even if no moral person is directly affected. See, for instance, feminist analyses of how female characters in many pop culture genres are hacked apart and raped on film or in print. The female characters are obviously fictional and not moral persons. Their "rapes" don't harm them in any way. At the same time, their portrayal is profoundly sexist. Or think of how the black character is always killed first in any horror/action movie.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 5, 2008 06:34 PM

Mike:

I'm practically always antiwar.

As far as the abortion issue is concerned, my point about the 'punishment' is one that some female bloggers brought up not too long ago (I think Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon): most anti-choicers, when they really get down to it, don't think that women should be punished for having them.

Therefore the debate really should only be about what society can do to help women not want abortions, since women who want them have made up their mind, and people who are opposed likely won't do anything to stop them.

I just hate it when people say they're 'pro-life' like that's some type of honorable stance. If they REALLY meant it then they would propose consequences for the women.

BTW, I hope you didn't take my tone as hostile -- you're one of my favorite commenters here. I just wanted EVERYONE to cut to the chase of pro vs. anti choice and what degree of zeal to enforce all anti-choice statutes.

Posted by Paulie Chestnuts at December 5, 2008 06:50 PM

Paulie Chetnuts: No offence taken it was a good point. "Practically always" I'm assuming means that at some point YOU might choose war?

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 5, 2008 08:09 PM

(As usual!) I don't really know what your point is, but I can say that you mischaracterize what it means to be pro-choice.

Pro-choicers
1. do not hold that abortion is not a moral issue (or in some sense, exclusively legal and therefore state constructed).

2. do not hold that fetuses do not have rights, perhaps even basic human rights.

3. do not hold that abortion is justified if the fetus suffers from biological defects or is culturally undesireable.

Perhaps you are referring to a particular type of pro-choicer, the strawchoicer mentioned in the first comment.

But look, the weakest version of the choice argument is pretty simple and serves to set the table quite nicely (further argument, of course, then ensues): it is possible for two beings to have competing rights, and in a (fuzzy-bounded!) set of cases, the mother's rights trump the fetus's.

This is true (for pro-choicers) even if it is assumed that the fetus has all the rights of personhood and even if those rights are granted at the time of conception. However, many choicers also hold that a 16-celled (or 256-celled, etc)zygote is not a person, and therefore that that living being does not have the rights of personhood till some other criterion is met (viability, personality, self-awareness, whatever) though it perhaps has other rights.

Now, the argument is slippery, but not because the concept of 'personhood' is fuzzy or illdefined. Even if it were clearly defined, many many people have intuitions that a mother still has the right to determine what happens in and to her own body. And the argument is moral, because even of one denies that the zygote is a person, clearly it's a living being and on it's way to personhood. The legality of abortion is really beside the point, except insofar as the state is acting to support an already existing right.

Posted by scudbucket at December 5, 2008 08:12 PM

This from Bernard:

No one is in a position to disprove the (binary) personhood status of a fetus at any stage -- unless one accepts a definition that makes it tautological -- therefore one must adopt the fallback position that to destroy a fetus is to kill a person with full moral status.

This from Pascal's Wager:

Let us weight the gain and loss in wagering that God is... If you gain, you gain all: if you lose, you lose nothing... And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason and accept that God exists.

Posted by scudbucket at December 5, 2008 08:45 PM

OK admit it Bernard, you wrote this to give Jonathan the weekend off.

Posted by bobbyp at December 5, 2008 11:13 PM

L.V.:
Charitable close reading tells me you didn't mean that pregnancy is "inflicted on all fertile women". Though that is what you said.
The fact is, or the facts are, that the state, or whatever moral arbiter we have above us, the community, congregation, whatever, has a lot of control over our bodies. If I take a drug that's illegal I can be arrested if I test positive for it. I can be arrested for having it in my body. When the military has a draft young people can have their whole bodies, inside and out, taken away from them. Even the volunteer army takes the bodies of soldiers, and sometimes doesn't return them.
It may surprise you to hear but I think women should have the largest say, and the pregnant woman the largest say of all, about abortion.
But not because it's about private property, not because the womb and its dependent fetus is private property. Because they're closest to the interface with life, of that life.
I agree with Chazelle that any drawn line is arbitrary and artificial and therefore ultimately false. And I think feminists have been tricked into trying to hold an artificial line that isn't firm enough to withstand organized resistance.
Just as I think fundamentalists have been tricked into disregarding the weight of miscarriage in their view of the sanctity of the unborn, how frequently it happens that women miscarry.
So frequently that it is dysfunctional to treat it as equivalent to the death of a living autonomous human being.
They just ignore miscarriage because it doesn't fit their limited hyper-moralistic view of things.
But also I think the black and white issue of fetuses having full moral status isn't as easy to resolve as it may seem.
It becomes an issue of intentionality, which in our culture is a Judeo-Christian moral concept, one that children need the protection of as they're raised, so they can make mistakes that are well-intentioned, and learn from them.
As I said above people die so that we can be comfortable, not because we said it was all right for them to die, but just because the wheels that turn in our favor turn against theirs.
If we have moral responsibilities to fetuses we have moral responsibilities to everyone affected by our presence in the world, which ultimately, why stop with human beings, means the world itself. Which means we can't play these right/wrong games except as delusional exercise, a refusal to see where we really are.
It all points up how fictive most of these drawn boundaries are, and how hypocritical so much of the posturing on both sides is.
And I think a lot of good-hearted decent people have been pitted against each other around this issue, when they might have united against a more dangerous common enemy. Instead the polarized constituencies have devolved into anger and hatred of each other.
Divided we fall.

Posted by roy belmont at December 6, 2008 12:57 AM

Pro-choicers... do not hold that abortion is justified if the fetus suffers from biological defects or is culturally undesireable.

Uh, I do.

Posted by Christopher at December 6, 2008 08:50 AM

Bernard,

Abortion is evil in every case. I do not say that as right wing "Jesus freak" but I say that as a follower of Gandhi and as a Hindu.

Read what Gandhi said about abortion.. It is violence unjustified..plain and simple..

Abortion was encouraged to be legalized in the USA by margaret sanger, founder of planned parenthood (who was a proponent of eugenics)

Now we see the result.. in India a form of eugenics is performed by aborting female fetuses

Mumbai terrorists are nowhere as evil as these abortionists

Sam

Posted by Sam at December 6, 2008 10:10 AM

Sam - Gandhi didnt get where he did by blanket condemnation of many people as 'evil'. certainly he claimed many people and modes of thinking were wrong but i dont recall much mention of people themselves as being 'evil' in my (admittedly limited) reading of Gandhi.

why are they 'evil' anyway? would you rather have a child come into the world and leave it in a few years, spending all that time in poverty, disease, misery or some combination of all of these?

life in india is hard enough for a child born to poverty, but what about a child born with a disability? even affluent people with disabilities have a tough life...

Posted by almostinfamous at December 6, 2008 11:38 AM

Personhood is an irrelevent argument. The argument is over who gets to make the decision to terminate the life. If the possibility of termination exists, and it always will, the legality of the practice must be decided. So the question is in whom will the decision reside--the individual or the state. Either the individual gets to make the decision for herself based on her own needs and desires, or the state makes the decision, based on its own needs and desires.

Male politician (usually) or woman, take your pick. Powerful individual or powerless individual. Decision based on someone else's religion or decision based on one own's religion. It's not that hard when you accept the fact that people have always ended pregnancies, and the only question is if women will be "given" the power to make their own choices, or if it will be made for them.

And nobody gives you power. It has to be taken.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 12:45 PM

Prof Chazelle, thank you for this post. The exchange of views has been very enjoyable and enlightening.

Posted by Rupa Shah at December 6, 2008 01:29 PM

What about a FATHER'S decision? Biologically the kid's half his.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 6, 2008 02:13 PM

What if the FATHER wants the child aborted and the MOTHER DOES NOT.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 6, 2008 02:16 PM

The father's time of choice, like the father's contribution to pregnancy, comes at the moment of conception. He chooses whether or not to prevent his sperm from impregnating a woman. He does not get to decide if her body will carry the child.

If he doesn't like this situation, he should ensure he does not contribute to the pregnancy of a woman who might have an abortion.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 02:33 PM

Mike Meyer, in my comment at 8.35 pm I had raised the same question.


It is a very private matter between the expectant mother, her physician and the father of the foetus. To say that it is woman's body and she has a right to do what she wants with it is too simplistic and imo, that right is not absolute. Another individual is also involved ( except in case of a sperm donor, in which case, abortion is not an issue as pregancy is desired by the woman ) and who has equal right in the decision making process.

And Susan of Texas, with due respect, a woman is EQUALLY responsible for preventing pregnancy by saying NO or using birthcontrol measures except in a case of rape or incest. Sadly and unfortunately, have seen enough women who use abortion as a "birthcontrol measure" in spite of being provided with tools to rprevent pregnancy.

Posted by Rupa Shah at December 6, 2008 02:45 PM

Rupa Shah, you are attempting to decide which birth control methods should be used by women, according to your moral standards. It is not your decision.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 02:56 PM

That's unfortunate, but it is still their decision, not yours. People do things that affect their health negatively all the time.

It's encouraging to see so much concern for the health and welfare of women. No doubt that is why it is so easy for them to get adequate health care, provide for their children, and protect themselves from the actions of those in power.


Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 03:40 PM

Susan of Texas: What if they are married and the father wants the child and the mother doesn't.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 6, 2008 03:44 PM

Mike, the only way you can make this work is to have a anti-choice man marry an anti-choice woman who suddenly abandons all her previous beliefs, principles and morals, to the extent that she is now willing to murder her child, as she once would have said. That situation would be very unfortunate (and a bit far-fetched), but doesn't change anything. It's still her choice.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 03:53 PM

Susan of Texas, I AGREE with you. It is the patient's RIGHT to exercise his/her choice in any medical situation. Howerever, as a physician taking care of a patient, not to inform and educate would be total negligence and failure to perform his/her duty as physician. No where in MY COMMENTs, I have indicated imposing my view on anyone or my morality on a woman as regards her choice.

And again I agree with you that more needs to be done for healthcare and welfare of, not only women, but the whole population that is uninsured and underinsured. And you may be surprised but there ARE medical professionals who DO CARE for the wellbeing of their patients and their rights, whether they be children or adults and fight against the powers to get necessary tools to provide adequate healthcare.

Posted by Rupa Shah at December 6, 2008 04:33 PM

Rupa Shaw, we are having two different conversations! I do believe that it's very important to make it easier for women to make healthy choices, and to encourage them to do so. I am speaking strictly about the issue of legality, and unfortunately I am accustomed to dealing with people who care about nothing but asserting their own worldview on others. Nuance and discussion are seen as signs of weakness to these people.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 04:58 PM

Rupa Shah, we are having two different conversations! I do believe that it's very important to make it easier for women to make healthy choices, and to encourage them to do so. I am speaking strictly about the issue of legality, and unfortunately I am accustomed to dealing with people who care about nothing but asserting their own worldview on others. Nuance and discussion are seen as signs of weakness to these people.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 04:59 PM

czpb, that's a very interesting link. However, the main point is not what one thinks about abortion, but if the law permits or forbids it. My personal feelings will influence my own decisions, but they should have no bearing on what others do, as long as abortion is legal. A woman who has an unwanted pregnancy must ask herself these questions and determine her own answer. Society as individuals must ask the same questions and decide to legalize abortion or not. Our society has already made that decision, so the only really practical thing to do is either work (unsuccessfully) to outlaw abortion, help women who are poor and/or in trouble to prevent the need for abortions, or just shut up about it and get one's nose out of other people's bedrooms and bathrooms.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 05:41 PM

roy:

Charitable close reading tells me you didn't mean that pregnancy is "inflicted on all fertile women". Though that is what you said.

Actually, I didn't. I was referring to the anti-choice position, which would inflict pregnancy on all fertile women.

As for your list of what the state does to our bodies: none of this is inevitable. Drugs can be decriminalized, drafts can be abolished, and a truly volunteer army doesn't "take" bodies of soldiers--they're given. The abortion debate, like the drug war debate and the draft debate, is about "ought" rather than "is." So your examples do nothing to hurt my point: the drug war and other coercive state controls over the body ought to end.

And in any case, in none of your listed circumstances is one person forced to give their organs, much less their whole bodies, to physically support and sustain another. We already refuse to accept that. Hence the illegality of forced organ and blood donation.

I agree that the abortion right is not about private property, because the body isn't property. Property is transferable, the body is not. It doesn't belong to you, it is you, it's your physical self. It's not about property any more than the right not to be beaten up or raped is about property. It's far more important than that.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 6, 2008 05:47 PM


If we have moral responsibilities to fetuses we have moral responsibilities to everyone affected by our presence in the world, which ultimately, why stop with human beings, means the world itself. Which means we can't play these right/wrong games except as delusional exercise, a refusal to see where we really are.

The problem with this, of course, is that you can say it about practically any moral or political issue that exists.

The point is that abortion is a different issue from most others, because of the fetus's unique relationship to the pregnant woman.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 6, 2008 06:03 PM

@almost..

OK, I'll admit that Gandhi does not use the word evil.. but abortion is defined by all the major world religions to be murder of an innocent. And Gandhi was very clear about non-violence against the innocent and weak. That is about as evil as evil gets... OK not as bad as george bush or Albright thinking millions of dead innocent kids in iraq are "worth" it

Point being.. you assume that every poor child in India may have to live in miserable and exploitable conditions and therefore it is better to end the life beforehand. We can not be sure of this at all..

I grew up in India and I travel there often and yes there is misery and exploitation but the solution is to bring an end to the misery itself and not to abort a life that may or may not thrive (according to our western standards)

bringing kids into such an environment may be criminal and some of them may die from abuse but some do thrive and there is also joy in that misery that all of us could learn a lot from.

It ain't up to us to decide such things..

Posted by Sam at December 6, 2008 06:03 PM

Susan of Texas, I think you and I pretty much agree. I think this post (and comments) are about moral justifications of abortion and specifically in reply to those who make the case that abortion is the immoral taking of a life. As a society we do legislate the taking of innocent lives (as we should) so I do believe we need as many good arguments as to why abortion is not the taking of innocent life and hence outside the "proper" role of government.

Posted by czrpb at December 6, 2008 06:03 PM

But I think that's a losing game, since abortion is the taking of a life and people understand that perfectly well. A life has begun that will be another human being if permitted to live, and will end with abortion.

We have decided as a country that we will not let the government decide if a person must kill our political enemies. (For war is always a political act.) The man is allowed to decide for himself if he wants to join the military and kill. We have decided that we will kill criminals under certain circumstances, and that once someone chooses to commit a crime under certain circumstances, he no longer gets to choose to live or die. We make choices to the best of our ability to reason and feel, and we have to be adults and acknowledge those choices. Abortion kills babies. Murder kills babies. War kills babies. Disease kills babies. We permit war and outlaw murder. We fight disease and permit abortion. We are doing our best, and as long as we leave God out of this we can live with our choices and their repercussions.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 06:28 PM

As a general point, who says birth is an "artificial" place to draw the line? It's much more meaningful and practical than the line between 17 and 18, or between 20 and 21. Birth radically alters the fetus's relationship with its mother and society. Before birth, it has no direct relationship with society and the world. After birth, the baby can directly interact with others and be cared for by them. It's a huge and real difference.

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 6, 2008 06:39 PM

Well, I suppose I meant to say we probably agree on abortion! grin!

But, I am confused as to how you answer those people who believe that abortion is murder? From your comments, you seem to reply with: The choice is the womens. But that can not be convincing to those who make that argument. Is that pretty much your total argument or do you argue abortion from multiple positions?

Posted by czrpb at December 6, 2008 06:41 PM

LadyVetinari: People like Singer say ... birth is an "artificial" place to draw the line.

But, my interpretation of this is that Singer is referring to any change in "personhood" in the baby. As I recall he does argue that killing a baby after birth is much to the disinterest of the parents. So I think he (and other similar writers on abortion) do see the huge and real difference pre&post birth.

Posted by czrpb at December 6, 2008 06:49 PM

I would say, I agree. It is, and I can live with that, just like almost all of us can live with the thousands of Iraq babies we deliberately murdered.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 06:58 PM

Susan of Texas, I am sympathetic to that argument, but I do wonder how effective it is? Can you tell me how effective it is in your experience?

I believe, though, that it is not (tho I have little evidence beyond my small personal experience). And if we take the "Animal Rights" movement, the most effective arguments were that animals are like us and can feel pain (ie. Singer's argument of "personhood") along with documentation of conditions in slaughterhouses and research labs. Simply saying a cow is life and you should not take innocent life; especially just for food certainly seems to be a weak argument.

The connection here is that I think most people who believe in abortion do so because they feel human life is a different kind of life. The argument by "personhood" is rather effective against that (except when religion is brought in, which is a lot admittedly). Similarly, pro-lifers IMHO see a kind of difference between women aborting and the "accidental" deaths of innocents when prosecuting evil-doers.

Posted by czrpb at December 6, 2008 07:17 PM

Mike: I believe in defensive war, that's about it.

Posted by Paulie Chestnuts at December 6, 2008 07:29 PM

Now you have to ask how people make decisions. Do they make them out of logic and argument, or emotion? New studies prove what our eyes can see--it's usually emotion. Some are afraid that God will punish them if they don't obey what they have been told are God's words. Some want to punish women through control, to assauge their own feelings of lack of control. Some see it purely through expediencey; they are for abortion if they might need it, and against it if not. Or they are fine with killing children they don't feel personally connected to, and enraged at the killing of children they feel connected with.

To change the mind of someone who emotes instead of thinking, you need to change their emotional reaction, and that is very difficult, since these emotions usually go back to childhood. I wouldn't really try. Either life circumstances will change their minds or nothing will. In the mean time, I have the same response to anti-choice people that I have to anti-gay people: If it offends you, don't do it.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 07:52 PM

I personally feel that war is a much more efficient and effect when it comes to killing the innocent. Not only do the innocent die but so do some of the guilty. The unborn as well as those already born are taken. If those children were born they could one day work to support a military society and thereby make a financial gain for society. Those whom they kill will be the population control. And those oppressed and made poor by it stand as social engineering. When it all boils down to atoms WE ARE ALL just some protoplasm, a few cells in a pile of water, but still those cells know when they are attacked, feel death.
Remember "Rosey The Riviter"? War historically advances a woman's career and social status/life too. Its all just killing somebody, whether that "somebody" understands what's going on or not.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 6, 2008 09:09 PM

Heh, I'm afraid that it's not an argument, it's a dismissal.

I believe that abortion is an emotional issue, which requires working on emotions, not reason. Logic tells you that ending a life is ending a life. To try to persuade anyone diffently is to betray logic. But we all manage to live with killing others.

The only thing I can think of to do is tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by Susan of Texas at December 6, 2008 09:16 PM

Yes WE do have to live with killing others, doesn't make it right, doesn't justify it that requires some sense of justice. Who knows what tomorrow brings so it can't be merciful for the victim, that demands a sense of mercy. NO it just IS.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 6, 2008 10:17 PM

Susan of Texas says Heh, I'm afraid that it's not an argument, it's a dismissal. I got ya! And no problem, I understand.

But, any liberties/freedoms you believe you and we have are because people were more than dismissive: They were active. We need a full and vigorous defense of what we have and aggressive offense of what we ought to.

Posted by czrpb at December 6, 2008 10:30 PM

Thanks for the answer, Bernard!

Posted by Federico Stafforini at December 6, 2008 11:45 PM

Sweet Child
In time
You'll see
The line
The line drawn
Between the good and bad
See the Blind Man
He's shooting
At the world
Bullets flying
Taking toll
If You've
Been bad
Lord! I'll bet
You have
And you've
Got nothing
Tween you
And flying lead
You'd better
Close your eyes
Oh,Lord!
You'd better
Bow your head
Wait for
The ricochet---Deep Purple

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 7, 2008 12:46 AM

czrpb: But, my interpretation of this is that Singer is referring to any change in "personhood" in the baby. As I recall he does argue that killing a baby after birth is much to the disinterest of the parents. So I think he (and other similar writers on abortion) do see the huge and real difference pre&post birth.

Thank you for the explanation. I think Singer's view is based on an overly abstract and isolating idea of "personhood." It assumes that whether or not a fetus is a moral person is entirely internal to the fetus, and has nothing to do with how it interacts with the rest of the world (which is the difference between pre and post birth).

Posted by LadyVetinari at December 7, 2008 02:26 AM

I believe that abortion is an emotional issue

Not intrinsically emotional, though. I can easily imagine a culture where aborting a fetus is no more controversial than swatting a fly.

In other cultures the length of the beard is an emotional issue, or eating a cheeseburger.

It's all in your heads, folks; being determines consciousness.

Posted by abb1 at December 7, 2008 05:27 AM

@cemmcs: i know that Gandhi opposed abortion(and drinking, smoking, meat-eating and british textiles)and thought it wrong. however he does not seem to condemn either the husband or the wife as 'evil' like Sam was saying.

@ Sam: I'm not taking a stand on abortion. At the same time, i am not sure i would look to any religion for advice on moral issues in this day and age.

you assume that every poor child in India may have to live in miserable and exploitable conditions and therefore it is better to end the life beforehand. We can not be sure of this at all..
i don't have to assume it, cause i see it every day. i am saddened by it every day. there are a number of people who do break the cycle of poverty and desperation, but they are few compared to those who don't.

i am just providing an explanation for the decision of some of these people. i do not necessarily agree with their decision, but then i also realize that it is not(yet?) my decision to make.

Posted by almostinfamous at December 7, 2008 05:45 AM

One thing I've discovered about myself: When anybody mentions Ghandi in their opinions, I immediately want to disagree with them. If they say "Ghandi said we should do this and that" then my immediate response is "Man, fuck Ghandi."

But if they say "Ghandi was a jerk to holocaust victims" I want to defend him.

I learn something new about myself every day.

Posted by Christopher at December 7, 2008 09:41 AM

I've sometimes considered trying to write the Ultimate Blog Post in terms of getting internet-types to argue. I'm thinking it should be along the lines of "Keynesian Abortions in Israel."

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at December 7, 2008 10:47 AM

The Economics of Abortion in Religion, there's a university chair somewhere in there.

Posted by Mike Meyer at December 7, 2008 11:29 AM

Mike Meyer: I would only amend Economics of Abortion in Religion with Economics of Abortion in Religion on Online Virtual Worlds. wink!

Posted by czrpb at December 7, 2008 01:37 PM

czrpb, thank you for the links. All I can say is, I look at the issue very differently than the esteemed professor does!

Posted by Rupa Shah at December 7, 2008 03:20 PM

almostinfamous

I did not say he condemned it as evil. The quotation above is the only thing I could find that Gandhi even said about abortion but I have seen his reference to an abortion in that case as a "crime" cited by others to show that he thought it was evil.

If, however, you read those two paragraphs, it does not say the woman even wanted to have an abortion and her husband clearly thought it would be "wrong". It was the husband's father who was insisting that she have an abortion so that the family would not be "disgraced".

Under those circumstances -- It seems to me clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime.

I think Gandhi was actually making a point about society's double standard on the issue adultery.

Posted by cemmcs at December 7, 2008 09:28 PM

@Federico Stafforini:
Pardon me for adding 'r' to your name at 10.38am!

Posted by Rupa Shah at December 7, 2008 10:36 PM