Wednesday, October 24, 2012

an accidental thesis on abortion.

so earlier tonight, i got too tempted to restrain myself and i ended up responding to a couple of particularly provoking facebook posts. turns out i accidentally wrote out my thesis on abortion, so i figured i'd share it with you.

(abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.)

names removed, here's the pro-life argument that got me going...

I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I'd never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, “Well, except in cases of rape. . . ," or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: “Especially in cases of rape!!!” All these people are out there who don‘t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage -- that I was disposable. - from my friend conceived in rape, and I think she should live! Totally Pro-Life!"

Whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, "I think your mother should have been able to abort you.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. I would never say anything like that to someone. I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now." - Rebecca

"'I think your mother should have been able to abort you.' That’s a pretty powerful statement." how exactly is that a powerful statement? that's simply a reiteration of the pro-choice position in the context of a situation where abortion often takes place.

implicit in every pro-choice position is an admission that "my mom should've been able to abort me." i would imagine rebecca has significantly invested her identity in a reflexive defensiveness, so i wouldn't bother getting personal and trying to convince her, but there is nothing particularly insensitive about that position. now telling someone who is pro-choice "your mom shouldn't have been able to abort you," that is probably way more incendiary, since it implies their mom, who they most likely respect, isn't morally or intellectually fit to make the right decision.

which brings me to a point of confusion, in rebecca's case wouldn't she agree that her mom made the right moral decision in a morally ambiguous situation? isn't that ultimately a pro-choice argument? i would imagine the emotional turmoil in the context of forced carriage would be infinitely more complicated, since it leaves open the questions like "did my mother not want to have me? was i burden? was i born out of a double-coercion, first by rape, then by the government forcing my mother to term? did my mother's pregnancy ruin her life? was i born with the weight of having ruined someone's life?"

the fact that this doesn't seem to have occurred to you leads me to believe you fundamentally misunderstand the pro-choice position.

the moral context we ascribe to a child is incredibly complex. would you pull a baby from an unconsenting mother's umbilical cord, shackle it in handcuffs, and charge it with theft of the mother's sustenance and trespassing on her property? of course not, because we do not ascribe the moral context of an adult to a child, infant, or fetus. it is morally ambiguous.

you play on the moral ambiguities yourself by posing the question "at what point should a woman not be able to have an abortion?" but again, the moral ambiguity is the linchpin of the pro-choice position. and the (or at least my) pro-choice argument is that "where there is moral ambiguity, the government should not mandate it's or even the majority's morality, but should leave the morally ambiguous choice to the individuals most familiar with the situation."

unless you can find me a fetus capable of weighing in on complex philosophical questions like when life begins, guess who that is? the mother. that's why it's offensive to women when you claim that despite the mother being intimate with the details of the situation, the male-dominated government's moral position supersedes her's.

if you truly understand the pro-choice position, then you'd realize that no one sees this as a righteous defense of babies. to someone who's pro-choice, you're trolling on people's walls essentially going out of your way to say "sorry, but i don't trust that you, as a woman, have the ability to make a respectable decision in this morally ambiguous situation." it relegates women to a position of unthinking vessels for men's progeny. personally, i find that way more offensive than "your mom should've been able to abort you."

but seriously folks, who needs those dumb vessels anyway? there are binders full of women just begging to carry (pun intended) out god's will.

(when women have abortions.)

and here's a little subsequent tit-for-tat:

Interesting thoughts Chris. I don't think the ability of the fetus to weigh in on the decision has any relevance. If it did, those with mental illnesses or in a comma would be left to die b/c they cannot reason at the moment. Or, if it was based on just having a beating heart, 10+ patients of mine should not be here now because I was operating on them while we were waiting for their heartbeat to return. Each of these patients had a right to life, whether they could reason or not in their present state, and same goes if their heart wasn't back to beating yet....both are similar to the young fetus who is also not reasoning in the present, and the heartbeat we are waiting to kick in.

thanks, long time no chat. your arguments are thought-provoking too which is why i was so tempted to respond, so thanks for them.

i think you might still be missing the point on mine though. the pro-choice position is not that the comatose *should* die anymore than babies *should* be aborted, it is that those most intimately involved with and thus familiar with the situation should make the decision. in the situation you pose, the logical conclusion to a comatose person would be that the family should decide, which is exactly what happens when families in consultations with doctors take them off life support, despite there existing the possibility that life is viable.

if we're logically consistent, i guess we'd be on different sides of the terri schiavo debate. but again, what's funny about that case is the premise that "those most intimately involved should decide" was actually generally accepted, the argument was actually over who that was, the husband or the parents.

oh sorry, i think i missed a point now. i get what you're saying: the fact that some patients are guaranteed to have a heartbeat and "we're just waiting for [it] to return" makes them the moral equivalent of fetuses. sorry i can't agree with you there.

my argument has nothing to do with the viability of life, it has everything to do with moral ambiguity. of course there's no moral ambiguity over whether or not we can kill someone under anesthesia, but there is with whether or not a woman is obligated to carry a fetus to term, which is why the comparison falls apart.

...and voila, there you have it. my accidental thesis on abortion. good election time reading i suppose.


  1. Hi, I saw this through a friend's facebook post. I have been forming my own "abortion thesis" for sometime, and I thought I'd respond with some brief, poorly developed points.

    I completely understand the "ambiguity" point. A lot of problems, I think, have been needlessly created by trying to wrap this problem up into a simple Good/Bad analysis. I won't shy away from the ambiguity. But I have to ask, do you have children? Can you develop the same thesis based on consensual conception?

    My take is we need to first recognize men and women have the complete right to do what they want, 100%, with their own bodies. Second, we need to recognize what a human body is. A single cell, metabolizing zygote with all the human chromosomes identifying it as homo sapiens is, undoubtedly a human body. Every human body that ever lived starts as a single cell, and all the information and mechanics to make that unique body is contained in that single cell. Who was responsible for creating that body? Not the body itself, since it was not created when it was being created (by definition). Here's the key, we need to recognize that one of the many things men and women can do with their bodies is create another body. I can't stress this enough, we can make other bodies, and when we do the game changes. I have a beautiful 10 month old daughter, and I didn't get this until she showed me that it really happens. Now once that happens, there is no guarantee of living to be 100 years old, or 10 years old, or even making it out of the womb. If a woman wants to prevent a term pregnancy, I will argue that she can, in full faith take a morning after pill not knowing if she is preventing a living human being from being created, or preventing one from living in her womb, and she would not be responsible if that zygote never made it, because she has no idea. If I turn on a machine at work and kill a man who ventured inside it, I am not a murderer, and I can honestly say I am not responsible if I am following protocol that protects human life. If I knew that Joe was in the machine, and I knew the machine could kill him, I'd be a murder by flipping the switch. That subtle difference is all it takes. A woman, too, even if knowing a fetus is residing within her can still remove the fetus by claiming she felt her life was endangered. Legally, I would not want to challenge her like some righteous inquisition. A simple signed statement would all it would take for her and her doctor to perform any medical procedure that could prevent the fetus from affecting her health and be free of any wrong doing. Rape is more difficult, but I believe there are many avenues for a woman to legally pursue. However, I believe the problem with rape is that the rapist (assumed man) who you could argue is really the one responsible for the creation of this new human who is in turn endangering the life of the rape victim, ought to be charged not only with rape but with the death of the human.

    I embrace your ambiguity, but I would add as much truth and education to the process as possible. Men and women can be responsible for creating new human life, and a woman ultimately has to decide, my life or theirs, and her decision is final.

  2. hi michael! thanks for commenting, i appreciate the discussion. you make a few important points, so i'll try address each and hopefully i don't miss any.

    you assert that a single cell constitutes a human body. i'm not sure i agree, but even if i concede the point that "a single cell ... is undoubtedly a human body," this alone does not make abortion immoral. your point operates under the additional premise that as we are 100% entitled to our bodies, it is in all circumstances wrong to end a life. again, i'm not sure i agree. that said, even if i concede both points, this is still not sufficient to prove the pro-life position.

    perhaps i can illustrate my position this way: i may agree that life (or the human body) begins at conception, and i may even agree with the unsaid premise that it is always and therefore wrong to end that life. still, as long as i acknowledge that there is even a shred of moral uncertainty, i could still be pro-choice, which is to say that i will abide by my moral compass in my own affairs, but i will still support your right to abide by yours in your own affairs.

    in order to invalidate the pro-choice position, one can be logically consistent in one of two ways. the first is to say: yes, there is moral ambiguity, but the government can and should mandate it's morality in morally ambiguous situations. (this is a very slippery slope.) the second is to say: no, there is no moral ambiguity, abortion is murder. (to your credit, you exhibit this logical consistency by saying we are *100%* entitled to our own bodies, and a single cell is *undoubtedly* a human body.) but let me point out a couple scenarios that show establishing moral clarity is not quite so simple.

    in principle, i agree that we are 100% entitled to our own bodies, but the abortion ambiguity (as well as many other moral ambiguities) arises because respecting one's entitlement violates another's. in the abortion case, there is a conflict between the mother's right to her body and the fetus's right to its body, especially in cases where the mother did not consent or in cases where the mother's life is at risk. it is precisely in these cases of conflicting rights where the premise "it is in all circumstances wrong to end a life" falls apart.

    individuals are often granted the ability to violate rights in defense of their own, even to kill in defense of their right to non-bodily property. to further muddy the matter, we differentiate between moral rights and responsibilities based on age, agency, and cognition (though i would argue against the age component). for example, a toddler hitting someone is not assault, just as a fetus in an unconsenting mother's womb is not trespassing, just as most would not seriously argue that miscarriage is manslaughter or that abortion deserves the same punishment as murder (despite the slogans).

  3. in another point, you assert that uncertainty in causing death absolves someone of guilt. while i agree in principle that we are 100% entitled to our own bodies, this does not include the right to create conflict with someone else's 100% entitlement, nor does it absolve culpability where there are questions of awareness, probability, and/or intent, though those factors definitely contribute to moral ambiguity. for example, i'm not absolved of guilt if i shoot someone during blindfolded (awareness) russian roulette (probability) target practice (non-intent) in a crowded room, nor should that be permissible.

    i had some logical fun with this one, as it highlights the shades of grey in moral ambiguity. while it would be a fun exercise to articulate reasonable rules and ambiguity thresholds for when governments' morality should supersede that of individuals (i'll probably think more on this later) it is ultimately a moot point. going back to my point that government shouldn't mandate it's morality in morally ambiguous situations, the burden of proof for moral clarity is on the government.

    exactly where legitimately governable moral clarity begins is irrelevant. that abortion is intuitively far from that threshold is my thesis, which is why i've provided the multiple examples that "show establishing moral clarity is not quite so simple."