Pro-Life, Pro-Environment

Human fetus, age unknown

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Here in the States we are going through the seemingly endless warm up for our 2012 presidential election. President Obama is the candidate of the Democrats and the Republicans are trying to sort out who will be their person.  The Republican candidates for being the presidential candidate are doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the folks who will anoint one of them.

In order to do this, a candidate must win over the folks who are focused on economic matters (mainly pushing for low taxes and less regulation) and those who are focused on what they regard as moral issues (pushing against abortion, same sex marriage and so on). The need to appeal to these views has caused most of the candidates to adopt the pro-life (anti-abortion) stance as well as to express a commitment to eliminating regulation. Some of the candidates have gone so far as to claim they will eliminate the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) on the grounds that regulations hurt the job creators.

On the face of it, these seems to be no tension between being pro-life and against government regulation of the sort imposed via the EPA.  A person could argue that since abortion is wrong, it is acceptable for the government to deny women the freedom to have abortions. The same person could, quite consistently it seems, then argue that the state should take a pro-choice stance towards business in terms of regulation, especially environmental regulation. However, if one digs a bit deeper, it would seem that there is a potential tension here.

In the States, the stock pro-life argument is that the act of abortion is an act of murder: innocent people are being killed. There are, of course, variations on this line of reasoning. However, the usual moral arguments are based on the notion that harm is being done to an innocent being.  When people counter with an appeal to the rights or needs of the mother, the stock reply is that these are overridden in this situation. That is, avoiding harm to the fetus (or pre-fetus) is generally more important than avoiding harm to the mother. In some cases people take this to be an absolute in that they regard abortion as never allowable. Some do allow exceptions in the case of medical necessity, rape or incest.  There are, of course, also religious arguments-but those are best discussed in another context.

If this line of reasoning is taken seriously, and I think that it should, then a person who is pro-life on these grounds would seem to be committed to extending this moral concern for life beyond the womb. Unless, of course, there is a moral change that occurs after birth that create a relevant difference that removes the need for moral concern. This, however, would seem unlikely (at least in this direction, namely from being a entity worthy of moral concern to being an entity who does not matter).

It is at this point that the matter of environmental concerns can be brought into play. Shortly before writing this I was reading an article about the environmental dangers children are exposed to, primarily in schools. These hazards include the usual suspects: lead, mercury, pesticides, arsenic, air pollution, mold, asbestos, radon, BPA, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other such things.

Currently, children are regularly exposed to a witches brew of human made chemicals and substances that have been well established as being harmful to human beings and especially harmful to children. They are also exposed to naturally occurring substances by the actions of human beings. For example, burning coal and oil release naturally occurring mercury into the air. As another example, people use naturally occurring lead and asbestos in construction. As noted above, it is well established that these substances are harmful to humans and especially harmful to children.

If someone hold the pro-life position and believes that abortion should be regulated by the state because of the harm being done, then it would thus seem to follow that they would also need to be committed to the regulation of harmful chemicals and substances, even those produced and created by businesses. After all, if the principle that warrants regulating abortion is based on the harm being done to the fetus/pre-fetus, then the same line of reasoning would also extend to the harm being done to children and adults.

If someone were to counter by saying that they are only morally concerned with the fetus/pre-fetus, then the obvious reply is that these entities are even more impacted by exposure to such chemicals and substances. As such, they would also seem to committed to accepting regulation of the environment on the same grounds that they argue for regulation of the womb.

It might be countered that these substances generally do not kill the fetus/pre-fetus or children  but rather cause defects. As such, a person could be against killing (and hence anti-abortion) but also be against regulation on the grounds that they find birth defects, retarded development and so on to be acceptable. That is, killing is not acceptable but maiming and crippling are tolerable.

This would, interestingly enough, be a potentially viable position. However, it does seem somewhat problematic for a person to be morally outraged at abortion while being willing to tolerate maiming and crippling.

It might also be argued that businesses should be freed from regulation on the utilitarian grounds that the jobs and profits created will outweigh the environmental harms being done. That is, in return for X jobs and Y profits, we can morally tolerate Z levels of contamination, pollution, birth defects, illness and so on. This is, of course, a viable option.

However, if this approach is acceptable for regulating the environment, then it would seem to also be acceptable for regulating the womb. That is, if a utilitarian approach is taken to the environment, then the same would seem to also be suitable for abortion. It would seem that if we can morally tolerate the harms resulting from a lack of regulation of the environment, then we could also tolerate the harms resulting from abortion.

Thus it would seem that a person who is pro-life and favors regulating the womb the grounds that abortion harms the innocent, then that person should also be for regulating the environment on the grounds that pollution and contamination also harm the innocent.

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12 Comments.

  1. The most ubiquitous environmental hazard to children is cigarette smoke — especially in the home and in cars. Children exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to have asthma, ear infections, bad effects on the circulatory system. Yet the libertarian argument is to not regulate the tobacco industry, and to not pass bans on smoking indoors. Those of us who advocate for such bans are called ‘health nazis’ and favoring a ‘nanny state’.

  2. You’re making some major assumptions in your posts. First, that all conservatives are against all regulations of business. This is not true, I’m a conservative and I think there should be some government regulation. GWB was is a conservative but he didn’t completely deregulate the U.S. economy. He saw that some regulation is in order.

    Also, you’re argument makes too big of a jump from your premises to your conclusion which invalidates your argument. I assume your argument is as following:
    1. Conservatives are against abortion because it murders innocent children.
    2. Harmful chemicals cause the murder of innocent children.
    therefore:
    Conservatives should be for the regulation of the environment.

    You argument is invalid because you need to provide another premise that argues connects your conclusion with premise 2. I don’t think this feasible since you haven’t defined “regulating the environment” and so your conclusion is vacuous. What do you mean by “regulating the environment?” Do you mean state governments should regulate the environment, federal government? How should this be done, cap-in-trade, fines, criminal penalties? What constitutes a harmful chemical? If you’re talking about things like mercury, asbestosis particles then we’re okay since those are already regulated and you’re point is trivial since this has already been put into law.

    Interesting post but needs more detail and clarity.

  3. Dennis Sceviour

    I am not sure logic means as much in politics as lots of hair. We need Sarah Palin in the race to brighten things up. :razz:

  4. I think, ultimately, it is all about balance. Getting the balance right in pro-choice & pro-life. And getting the balance right against regulation and deregulation.

    To get balance, it is important, I believe, to have strong proponents from the right (Republicans), and an equal and opposite strong proponents from the left (Democrats). That way we may get an equilibrium.

    I understand the Republican’s position; Firstly with respect to pro-life; the saying that “the beautiful ones, are not yet born” I think, holds true for many good characteristics of humans – beauty itself, intelligences, empathy, etc. The foetus should be protected to be born and made advancement on what their parents have been unable to do thus far, in their lifes – thus improve the genes optimal functions – I’m assuming. And also, beacuse they are going to be born into a world where their capacty to learn is equally increased by new science and technology, providing them with better education, more information and better ways of interpreting the information, leading to the ability to make better decisions – such as avoiding wars and living in peace etc. I could go on…

    For the pro-choice camp, it is also clear that, experience, knowlegde and wisdom, teachers them to not only make the best decisions for the un-born child – for reasons, of health, adverse phychological impact post birth (where eg. rape or incest in concerned) but,more importantly to have liberty in pursuit of prosperity and happiness – both of which would be adversely impacted if choice is taking away from parents to abort an unborn child.

    On regulation, where capitalism is concerned, it is also difficult to suppress human greed, pride,envy and the likes, that create excesses – and hence booms and bust. Yet it is equally important not to restrict capitalism with excess regulation.Excess regulation stifles the execution of good ideas, innovation, arbitrage etc, and leads to less jobs in the economy overall.

    I think, the Republicans are more about “small government” in Ron Paul’s assertion to get rid of the EPA – hence supporting, the points you make in the article.

    When all is said and done, I think, Aristotle was right, is the middle way “stupid”.

  5. Mike:
    Philosophers burning straw men leads to mental pollution. That post reads like a party political broadcast for the Democrats. To alter a phrase, it seems somewhat below your pay grade. Shouldn’t you as a philosopher be taking each issue on its own merits and standing aside from the hurly burly of pols self contradictions? Questions such as: Is the president with his unelected cabinet merely a substitute for King George, is there a democratic deficit in the electoral system i.e. majoritarian voting and the electoral college, might be appropriate.

    We all know that there is as much intelligent life in an owl mute as in most pols anywhere so you need a system that checks them. Go Plato go.

  6. It seems to me there are two paradigms here:

    a) Progressive minds that recognize the responsibility to care for others over ones self-interests – in this set you will find pro-life, pro-environment and often as not vegetarians/vegans.

    b) Hedonistic – Libertarian minds that recognize the need for personal freedoms and reduced state intervention – in this set you will find pro-choice, climate change debunkers and huntsmen and women (in particular Alaskans).

    I think it wrong to identify set #a with democrats/labour/social democrats/left-wing/catholics/reds and set #b with republicans/conservatives/christian democrats/protestants/right-wing/blues – there is too much diversity in those groups for neatness. That said there may be a reasonable correlation.

  7. Michael,

    Actually, with a tiny tweak it could be seen as being critical of certain Democrats as well. After all, if being pro-life seems to entail that one should be pro-environment, then it would seem that a few minor adjustments would allow one to argue that pro-environment folks should be pro-life. Perhaps you could clear away some of the mental smoke by making those adjustments to the machinery of my argument. :)

    I do think that the electoral college needs to be replaced with direct voting. There are, however, some arguments based on the notion of state sovereignty for keeping a state based system. Whether those are good arguments or not is another matter.

    Also, I wish my pay grade was on par with the political folks-I’d have my servants doing my blogging for me. :)

  8. Abortion is an obvious harm to a being whereas the link between various chemicals being produced in the environment requires various stages to show how harm occurs and who is being harmed. In case you hadn’t noticed, people who call for an absolute ban on abortion tend not to be the people best able to step through many steps, some of which involve science. So yeah, your logic may be correct, unfortunately the targets of your post do not run on logic.

  9. I have several problems with this blog post. For one thing, it seems to make an argument of equivalency between being pro-environment and pro-life. To be fair, the label pro-life isn’t completely accurate which allows this type of superficial, and false, comparison. What pro-life really means is pro-innocent-human-life.

    A person cannot be pro-environment (and there are problems with that term as well, but that’s a different discussion) and allow the extinction of a species such that it changes an eco-system, for example. But someone pro-innocent-human-life can if it doesn’t impact humans, at least within a certain boundary. So, from the get-go, the comparison makes a good political argument, i.e., sophistry, but is comparing two different things.

    Later in the post, there actually is a quasi-logical argument that “It might be countered that these substances generally do not kill the fetus/pre-fetus or children but rather cause defects. As such, a person could be against killing (and hence anti-abortion) but also be against regulation on the grounds that they find birth defects, retarded development and so on to be acceptable. That is, killing is not acceptable but maiming and crippling are tolerable.”

    It assumes that pro-life people are not against the causing of birth defects, which is fairly ridiculous. If you take the most hard-core pro-lifer, who will not condone abortion in cases of rape, incest, etc., then you also have someone who would not terminate a pregnancy due to grave defects. From both a logically consistent and utilitarian aspect, such a person would be more against things that cause birth defects than someone who would shrug, terminate the pregnancy, and say, “We’ll try again in 3 months.” Why? Because such a pro-lifer will be enburdened by the outcome – the expense, time, caring for, etc. of a child suffering from significant birth defects whereas a pro-choicer, especially one who believes in a certain level of eugenics, would just roll the dice again.

    But a larger problem with the quote than that, one that goes beyond pro-life and pro-choice and pro-environment, is this: one can be against harm-inducing chemicals and not be for the EPA or greater regulation. For example, one may in fact support laws that if a company knowingly introduces harmful substances, the board of directors is summarily executed. A little extreme, but consistent with pro-innocent-human-life in that such people are not innocent having knowingly done harm.

    The assumptions, portraitures, and such in this piece read in my mind as political propaganda and sophistry, and do not deserve to be under the banner of “Philosophy”. Plato is not amused, me thinks.

    Let’s have a philosophical discussion, and leave the punditry and sophistry to the idiot political commentators. Philosophers should do better than be political operatives.

  10. I wonder if there is not an underlying racial agenda in that the Republicans are increasingly the party for whites and so have to address their ethnic interests. The opposition to abortion is relevant to low white birth rates and family breakdown and low tax policies reduces economic transfers from whites to blacks and Mexicans who have lower average incomes. If you look at it from this point of view, it appears rational. The issue that this does not hold good for is immigration, though some republicans are opposed to this up to a point.

  11. Stephen, I don’t think there is an underlying racial agenda. Percentage-wise, more black women have abortions than white women.

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0101.pdf

    Low birth rates among whites can mostly be attributed to the use of birth control. Ergo, if one wanted to increase white birth rate, one would make birth control illegal, which the GOP hasn’t called for, to the best of my knowledge. I would suspect the disparity there has economic reasons: education and the cost of effective birth control; there is a clear economic disparity between whites and non-whites in the U.S.

    However, I think you do have a point when you say “low tax policies reduces economic transfers.” That would be because “economic transfers” is a euphemism for Socialism, which the GOP is definitely against and the Democratic party is increasingly for.

    So I agree with you that some of these things fall across racial lines, but not because of a racial agenda but rather because economic disparity is across racial lines in the U.S.

  12. >A person cannot be pro-environment (and there are problems with that term as well, but that’s a different discussion) and allow the extinction of a species such that it changes an eco-system, for example.< I would contend that they could-after all, extinctions can be natural and they have obviously occurred long before humans made the scene. My book has an essay in it called "Letting Species Die" in which I argued for allowing some species to go extinct, and yet I am pro-environment.

    >Later in the post, there actually is a quasi-logical argument that “It might be countered that these substances generally do not kill the fetus/pre-fetus or children but rather cause defects. As such, a person could be against killing (and hence anti-abortion) but also be against regulation on the grounds that they find birth defects, retarded development and so on to be acceptable. That is, killing is not acceptable but maiming and crippling are tolerable.”< How is this quasi-logical? What do you mean by that term?

    >It assumes that pro-life people are not against the causing of birth defects, which is fairly ridiculous. If you take the most hard-core pro-lifer, who will not condone abortion in cases of rape, incest, etc., then you also have someone who would not terminate a pregnancy due to grave defects. From both a logically consistent and utilitarian aspect, such a person would be more against things that cause birth defects than someone who would shrug, terminate the pregnancy, and say, “We’ll try again in 3 months.” Why? Because such a pro-lifer will be enburdened by the outcome – the expense, time, caring for, etc. of a child suffering from significant birth defects whereas a pro-choicer, especially one who believes in a certain level of eugenics, would just roll the dice again.< You are, ironically, helping my argument. When I say that "it might be countered" my point is that a person who is pro-life could avoid being pro-environment by not caring about the impact on environmental contaminants on fetuses. Your point seems to be that pro-life people would never take this out. If so, this just makes my argument all the better. After all, they should be (if you are right) strongly opposed to anything that would harm a fetus-and this would include pollutants.

    >But a larger problem with the quote than that, one that goes beyond pro-life and pro-choice and pro-environment, is this: one can be against harm-inducing chemicals and not be for the EPA or greater regulation. For example, one may in fact support laws that if a company knowingly introduces harmful substances, the board of directors is summarily executed. A little extreme, but consistent with pro-innocent-human-life in that such people are not innocent having knowingly done harm.< True, a person can be against regulation and against pollutants. Similarly, a person could be against theft and murder, but against regulating them. However, that might seem like an odd position to take given that reducingchemical contamination and crime would seem to involve regulations.

    >The assumptions, portraitures, and such in this piece read in my mind as political propaganda and sophistry, and do not deserve to be under the banner of “Philosophy”. Plato is not amused, me thinks.Let’s have a philosophical discussion, and leave the punditry and sophistry to the idiot political commentators. Philosophers should do better than be political operatives.<

    You need to back up your accusations.

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