Abortion Sense and Nonsense

First the pro-life nonsense. I think it’s nonsense to think personhood begins at conception. A 5-day old embryo composed out of undifferentiated, pluripotent cells is not a complete person like you and me. A 2-month-old fetus, even with its complete set of rudimentary organs, is not a complete person like you and me.

Now for the pro-choice nonsense. A commenter here said recently that aborting a fetus is no more problematic than excising a tumor. But wait, a tumor is a bunch of cells that grow erratically and prevent the healthy functioning of organs, ultimately causing death, while a fetus is something that eventually turns into a full, human baby. No difference? To my mind, that’s just weird. Talk to people who have had abortions and I don’t think you will hear anyone talking about removing a tumor.

So abortion is not the murder of a person, and it’s not the excision of a tumor. So what (the hell) is it? I think it’s hard to let your mind settle down in a grey area. A fetus is a bunch of cells in the process of becoming a baby. Of course. We can all agree on that. But unfortunately, there’s nothing more to the truth. You can add, at will, and decide to classify a fetus as a full person, or subtract, at will, and make it out to be a tumor. But all there is to the truth is that a fetus is a baby-in-the-making. The critical question is how we should treat such a thing.

The problem is, that’s a very hard question. A baby-in-the-making is not exactly like anything else we’re familiar with. Hence the motivation to make it more…or less.

Some philosophers have tried to resolve the abortion question without making it about the treatment of this odd entity. In a famous article, Judith Thomson says “let’s pretend.”  Suppose the fetus were a person. Would that make abortion impermissible? She asks us to imagine a bonafide person (a famous violinist) getting hooked up to us for 9 months of life support. Would it really be wrong to cut the cord and go your own way? Surely not, she says.

This is an ingenious argument, but it doesn’t speak directly to the real world problem of an unwanted pregnancy. If I am pregnant and don’t want to be, I want to know what to do about my pregnant state. I can’t possibly start my soul-searching with Thomsons’s “let’s pretend.”

To my mind, Don Marquis has the most compelling pro-life argument around. Whatever a fetus is or isn’t, it does have a future of value, he points out. If you terminate a pregnancy, you take away that entire future. But again, there’s a problem with the attempt to minimize the importance of what a fetus actually is.

Suppose there were witches who could turn rocks into people. A witch tells me she will be turning a particular rock in my backyard into a handsome prince. Would it really be wrong of me to pulverize the rock, and take away its princely future? Surely not, and that’s because the rock isn’t the sort of thing that can be entitled to its future. Is a baby-in-the-making, unlike a rock, entitled to its future? It’s not clear. Marquis doesn’t, then, succeed in making it beside the point what a fetus actually is.

For a pregnant woman, the question really is, “what may I do to this baby-in-the-making that I’ve unintentionally conceived?” And the problem is that a baby-in-the-making is a thing we don’t have rules for. Deciding what may or may not be done to a fetus is like resolving other hard questions. What may or may not be done to a corpse, a painting, a spider, a 500 year old tree? These are all questions on which reasonable people will disagree, as the saying goes.

And that’s the crux of the matter. Where there is no single right answer, government has no business legislating. Some will think a baby-in-the making should be honored and allowed to grow into a baby. I don’t find that the least bit unreasonable. But some will say a baby-in-the-making (especially at the earliest stages) doesn’t have to be honored in that way. A woman can give precedence to her own wellbeing. Again, not unreasonable.

There are two reasonable views you can have about a baby-in-the-making. And so this is a case where we really must let each woman go her own way. And of course, it’s important, because it would be terribly unfair for anyone to have to go through with a pregnancy—think of the discomforts and inconveniences, the pain of childbirth, and the problem of keeping or giving up an unwanted child—because of somebody else’s views about babies-in-the-making, instead of her own.

Abortion is one of the things that hangs in the balance in the coming US election. The side that keeps choice in each woman’s hands—and that would be Obama-Biden—needs to win for lots of reasons, but this is one of the important ones.  (So please excuse the length!)

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  1. I don’t think your rock argument really address Marquis’ point. The rock doesn’t have a FLO by virtue of the witch saying she will do this (otherwise we couldn’t use contraception which he says we can). The rock isn’t a person yet… there isn’t an individual to harm.

    Letting each woman go her own way, is precisely the pro-choice position, and against the pro-life position, so you’re not really letting it be both ways there.

    Say that you believed that murder was wrong, and you saw someone performing a murderous act in the park. You’d be morally obligated to stop the person. So it goes for the pro-life camp. This isn’t even something people should have a choice over.

    I think it just makes much more sense, to say that the baby in the making is not a person. It’s not something that we would typically say is a rational, being. We may have lots of emotional connections to it, but we have no moral obligations to its continued existence. If we decide to foster its existence, then we take on additional responsibilities, like not drinking and smoking, eating well, etc. And the idea that fetuses are persons at conception is simply fundamentally mistaken.

  2. A tumor? Given some circumstances, rape or incest, just youthful foolhardiness, even mid-school or mid-life with a surplus of children, or any other life the woman has chosen for herself, this fetus can act like a cancer. It can stop the woman in her tracks and turn her life upside down and backwards. The possibility for this fetus to have a rosy future given to it by the person whose life was ruined is less than tiny. Excise the tumor. Get rid of the cancer before it grows to have any resemblance to a human and before it dominates the woman’s life. I see no reason to wax sentimental about it.

  3. First of all, I only favor choice during the first few months of pregnancy. Given that, during the first few months of pregnancy, it is impossible to say how the fetus will develop. There are two goods, the good of the fetus (which may turn out deformed or die in the womb) and that of the mother, who I assume is a rational person capable of deciding whether, for financial or psychological reasons, she can care for and love the future baby. The fetus is, as Wayne says, a baby in the making, a future good, while the mother’s choice is a present good and it is a certain good (there is no doubt that the mother is a rational being), while once again, the baby may turn out deformed. So, as the saying goes, a bird in the hand (the mother) is worth two in the bush (the baby). A certain present good (the mother’s right to choose) trumps a possible future one (the fetus turning into a normal baby). Finally, mothers with unwanted babies may forget them in hot cars, which is not a pleasant way to die. Better an abortion than death in a hot car.

  4. The rock isn’t a person yet… there isn’t an individual to harm.

    But, but…Marquis is trying to bypass the question of the personhood of the fetus. He doesn’t think it matters. It’s simply having a future like ours (FLO) that matters. A fetus has that. Why doesn’t the rock have that too?

    Or rather, maybe I should just stress the main point, not dig my heels in on the rock. It’s not obvious fetuses are the kind of things that are entitled to their futures.

    Letting each woman go her own way, is precisely the pro-choice position, and against the pro-life position, so you’re not really letting it be both ways there.

    Well, I’m really not trying to “have it both ways.” I’m definitely pro-choice. But I do think there’s more to say about fetuses besides that they are not persons. They are ALSO not tumors. And that’s important.

    What they are (babies-in-the-making) makes a certain range of responses to them reasonable. There are attitudes outside the range–both on the too respectful and the too disrespectful ends.

  5. I think it just makes much more sense, to say that the baby in the making is not a person. It’s not something that we would typically say is a rational, being.

    But do you have to be a rational being to be a person? There are many cases where beings that are not necessarily considered rational are still granted personhood (new-born babies even).

    Is the ‘capacity to suffer’ important here?

  6. A human life is not only a biological phenomenon, but also a project, and the pregnant woman who decides upon an abortion does so because an unwanted child would interfere with her life project.
    Let’s assume that most people’s life projects are valid or reasonable. The fetus has no project. It is pure potentiality. Why not priorize for a life project that is already being actualized, that of the mother? I realize that a new-born baby doesn’t have a life-project either, but having been born, he or she is a person, an independent living creature, in a way that the fetus is not. The fetus only lives thanks to its mother’s body, and in the early months of pregnancy is not viable outside of the mother’s body.

  7. At what point does a fetus gain humanity? Prior to 6 weeks, its just a collection of cells and DNA that doesn’t differ from most plants or bacteria. Without bringing religion into it, when does a person become a person? Is it when they can move inside the womb? Is it when the person can think independently and feel pain and happiness and hunger? It’s morally and ethically wrong to kill another human being (although some of mans laws contradict this), but it isn’t morally and ethically wrong to kill a collection of cells and DNA.

  8. Prior to 6 weeks, its just a collection of cells and DNA that doesn’t differ from most plants or bacteria.

    This really isn’t true. It’s amazing how early basic organ development begins. In the picture at the top, the fetus between the fingertips is about 6 weeks old. That doesn’t look like a plant or bacteria to me.

  9. paul- Yes… you need to be a rational being to be a person, imo. That doesn’t mean that we ought not protect things that are not rational, precisely because of their capacity to suffer e.g.

    Jean- In what way does it really matter that they are not tumors? How could one have an abortion in a disrespectful way?

    Scenario 1: An irresponsible teenager gets pregnant for the third time, but since she likes the feel of sex without condoms, and doesn’t like how the pill makes her feel, she uses abortion as her preferred method of birth control.

    Scenario 2: A responsible, sexually active teen gets pregnant, when both her birthcontrol methods failed her. She could raise the baby, since her parents are wealthy, but prefers to have an abortion because she has a dream of becoming a playboy centerfold one day, and is afraid of what birth will do to her aesthetic appeal.

    Scenario 3: A responsible sexually active teen gets pregnant when both her birth control methods failed her. She could raise the baby, since her parents are wealthy, but is afraid that being a mother will negatively impact her educational opportunities, and consequently her future career. So she has an abortion.

    Are any of scenarios being respectful to the fetus? Are they all being respectful to the fetus?

    I would say that scenario 1, the teen is being irresponsible, but I’m not sure if she’s being disrespectful. I think scenario 2 and 3 are equivalent.

  10. If there is a button that fills a room (next to a nursery) with poisonous gas, would you press the button if you were unsure about the door of the room being closed all day?

    The point that everyone misses is that this isn’t just a matter of ethics, it’s a matter of prudence. Even if you grant that one of the ethical views on abortion is probably correct, you had better be bloody sure before you press that button.

  11. @Jean

    I agree, it doesnt look like a plant or bacteria, but it has the same physiological capacity than them, therefore it doesnt seem inhuman to abort it any more than it would be to kill a plant or bacteria. This might seem harsh, but it seems pretty black and white to me.

    Why does the scenario have to be respectful to the fetus? Since when does the fetus get respect in the first place? Shouldnt the first nod of respect and concern go to the mother?

  12. porkins- Jean thinks that the fetus needs to be respected, and it isn’t a cancerous tumor. I’m not terribly sure it needs to be respected at all, which is sort of my point.

  13. I agree, it doesn’t look like a plant or bacteria, but it has the same physiological capacity than them, therefore it doesnt seem inhuman to abort it any more than it would be to kill a plant or bacteria.

    Physiology is a question of function. A 6 week old fetus has parts that function in a completely different way from a bacterium or plant. For example, it has a heart that beats.

    Wayne, I think a person ought to recognize ending a pregnancy as a choice with some gravity because a baby-in-the-making really is a special thing…though not a person. I think women who have abortions do see it that way (I have a fair amount of up close and personal evidence). What’s worth the sacrifice? Well, it depends on the person. I would have a hard time making generalizations. If the centerfold hopeful is otherwise happy to have a baby, I recommend a c-section. I hear a bikini cut is a common choice for the beautiful people.

    I’ve never met anyone one who used abortion as birth control–it’s just not a realistic approach since abortion is messy, expensive, painful, etc. If someone did, I do think it would show a sort of failure of perception. The person would have to be insensitive…or maybe just ill-informed. I think a lot of people just don’t know how quickly fetal development proceeds.

  14. @Jean

    You are correct, a fetus’ heart starts to beat at 21 days. My bad. So I guess I should rephrase my statement to 3 weeks instead of 6.

  15. Jean,

    Bravo! I enjoyed your very balanced article and more or less share your conclusions for much the same reason that you argued. I’ll try to build on your basic argument that since the issue is unresolved (perhaps unresolvable), government has no place in it. Hopefully I won’t be redundant.

    I’ve tried thinking a lot about what makes a person, but I won’t get into that. At most I’ll just point out the relatively uncontroversial idea that “human” and “person” are not the same thing.

    “Person” (whatever that is) clearly has a position of significance that “human” (again, whatever that is) does not. A fetus probably is a “human” animal of some sort with some sort of inherent value, but it should not be confused with a person. If it were abortion would be murder.

    But it’s not anymore “murder” than killing a mouse or 500-year old tree is “murder”. While a mouse can suffer, we don’t call it a person. We have good reason anyway to believe that its suffering is quite different from that of a person.

    For example, there use to be a medical procedure during birth called “twilight” that effectively made the mother still minimally animate yet relatively unconscious of events and later unable to recall the experience at all (my grandmother had this). While the person experiences pain, they do not “suffer”. It’s worth noting that victims of psychological and physical abuse routinely complain that the psychological abuse was worse. Suffering is more morally significant than mere pain and fetuses do not suffer and are not persons.

    How much a fetus’s “human” attribute figures into things is important, but whatever it is, it’s unrelated to murder per se. If abortion is to be considered possibly immoral but not murder, then someone ought to tell us exactly what crime it is before we go trying to make it illegal.

    Of course, those who think that legislating morality is acceptable will not find this argument necessarily persuasive.

  16. Not so much ethology more of a bugle call to get out the vote. The paradox is that if you look at Obama’s total life history the pressure on his mother today to nip him in the bud would be overwhelming. She was young, unmarried , beginning her college career in a mixed race relationship. The father was not a very good prospect which was as it turned out a realistic assessment. His mother herself was somewhat flighty. By all by all the rational counselling criteria of today she was surely a candidate for a compassionate termination……. of Obama.

  17. Yes, the child Obama’s mother chose to have became the man he is today. Precisely why no one should have chose for her and no one should have ostracized her for her decision. Only she understands what she is able to accept and love and develop into a full human being. Then there’s the mother of recent blog fame who left her unwanted child in the car to die. She should have made her choice before the baby was anything more than a barely recognizable promise of human being.

  18. To paraphrase an old friend, our lawmakers can barely manage to keep the roads in shape. Probably we can’t trust them to think through abortion.

  19. Michael,

    rtk makes a good point, but I will add mine.

    Yes, it could have been Obama. It could have been Hitler. It could have been anyone. Most pregnancies do not in fact come to term; the woman usually doesn’t even know she was pregnant.

    To adapt an argument of Carl Sagan, the probability is that a nearly infinite number of people smarter than Einstein or more saintly than any religious figure could have come to be were it not for some accident, accidents that are ultimately all wrapped up in the same chain of causality as everything else.

    Killing Einstein and killing a budding genius who might become Einstein, or embryo that could become Einstein, or indeed a single sperm that might well have some expectation of becoming an Einstein are not the same things.

  20. Finally, the best argument in favor of choice is that when abortion is illegal, as in the case of Chile, women still have abortions in the same number as when abortion is legal. Poor women have poor quality abortions, and rich women have luxury abortions. You can’t legally prohibit sin (I use the word ironically). It doesn’t work.

  21. Possibly, a person is a person when deemed so, either by the person or someone else.
    Since a fetus cannot speak for itself, it is up to someone else to deem it a person but no one can agree on when a blob of cells becomes a person. I see no problem with this.
    Someone believes that God knows us before we are even born, “that we are wonderfully and fearfully made” or someone believes in reincarnation or rebirth, then they will believe life begins at or before conception. Fine with me.
    Others believe a fetus is not a person until a certain point of development and that’s fine with me, too.

    The government has no right to legislate abortion. If we are a country based on the ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is.

  22. Tree, I’m wary of moving from “people disagree” to “the gov’t shouldn’t legislate.” There are too many cases where people disagree, but gov’t should legislate. People disagreed about slavery, but it was right to abolish it.

    So I’m not just saying people disagree. I’m saying there are some views of the fetus that ought to be ruled out as false. A fetus isn’t a tumor or a full person, even though that’s what some say. It is (in fact) a baby-in-the-making. But where does that leave us? With irresolvable differences about the fitting way to treat a fetus.

    Analogy: some people thinking a cloud looks like a sheep, and other saying it looks like a flower. It’s the cloud’s amorphousness that makes these different reactions equally legitimate. I’m saying a fetus is similarly amorphous. While some interpretations of what it is are just wrong (person, tumor), that leaves a spectrum of competing attitudes that are all within reason.

  23. Physiologically, a tumor? Of course not. A cancer that can metastasize to various parts of one’s life? I think so. And not just for the mother. Consider Palin’s future son-in-law. That kid screwed himself as much as anyone else. I seriously try not laugh at that situation, however. Not funny! ROTFLMFAO. No, really, no.

  24. I just don’t think the metastasis metaphor captures the situation well. Abortion is an option undertaken with a lot of emotion, because women are not (mostly) unaware that a fetus is more than a tumor or a blob of cells, or whatever. The abortion decision is (I’m betting) usually the resolution of a conflict. A woman is pulled in different directions–toward protecting her own life, which is about to get badly derailed, and toward protecting the baby-to-be. I think this decision is usually experienced as wrenching. Deciding to get rid of a metastasizing tumor is very, very easy. Nobody has any urge to nurture their tumor.

  25. But if there is no conflict, is there respect? I’ve got in mind a close friend of mine who has absolutely no desire to have children. If she were to get pregnant, there wouldn’t be a second thought, an abortion would be in her future. No fretting. No conflict.

  26. Three clear situations, probably all common.
    Pregnant: Yay! Finally!
    Pregnant: How inconvenient. What to do. What to do.
    Pregnant: Horrors! Out out.

    Not a chance that all women sit back with a cup of tea and weigh the merits of a newly fertilized cute little ovum and the demerits of a little monster in the making.

  27. Wayne, Even if she doesn’t want babies, doesn’t she have that basic urge to protect living things–like the proverbial baby wading in the pool of water? She don’t have to want to adopt it to feel concerned for its life. I want her to have some small fraction of that feeling for a baby-in-the-making, since after all it is…that…though not more.

  28. rtk, It’s not philosophical weighing that people do, with cup of tea in hand. They feel conflicted, they freak out. I think most of them do. Then again, it’s not as if I have anything more than anecdotal data to back that up.

  29. jean: our anecdotes don’t match. I’ll go further. I think I’m not the only person with an unhuman inability to make a close connection between sex, pregnancy, newborn baby and grown-up child. Who thinks of creating a 50 year old son when seducing a schoolmate? It’s inconceivable (baaaad pun).

  30. Jean, I was being very specific in my point. It was meant to apply to abortion only, not anything else. It’s important that people be allowed to decide for themselves when life begins, it’s just when someone forces their view onto others that it’s a big problem. If someone believes life begins at conception and that makes them happy, then fine, just don’t force that idea on me and the rest of the country.

  31. I hate it when ethical discussions just degrade down to relativism. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  32. I hope you’re not calling me a relativist. I think what I say is not relativistic, since I’m (ever so boldly) claiming that a fetus is not a person or a tumor. No “everyone has their own truth” for me. Still, if we all agree on what a fetus is (a baby-in-the-making) we’re still bound to have some differences of attitude, which (I’m saying) the law shouldn’t discriminate between.

  33. As I understand it, the pro-choice position is a legal one, not an ethical position on whether abortion is good or not. The pro-choice position simply says that abortion should be legal, that each woman should have the right to choose. I live in a country where all abortion is illegal, yet an abortion is common and easy to obtain, if one has the money.
    When a law has no effect on what it supposedly regulates, the question arises whether that law has any utility. In fact, a law that is not enforced tends to create a climate of lack of respect for the law in general and what I may call focused enforcement: from time to time, they select someone, often for political reasons, and crack down on him or her.
    There are several options. One, more strict law enforcement: a policeman could follow every woman in the age of fertility around to assure that she does not get pregnant and have an abortion. Does Chile have enough police for that? No. Do the police have better things to do with their time, like protecting children against child abuse and homes against burglars? Yes. So it is not practical to make abortion illegal, whether or not abortion is ethical. Many things that are not ethical are not illegal: adultery, plagiarism, lying about whether you read all of The Critique of Pure Reason. Now, some non-ethical acts are so serious that even if it is difficult to enforce a law against them, they should be illegal. Is abortion one of them? No, it is not. Thus, the pro-choice position is correct, whether or not abortion is ethical or not. That is not relativism, just political and legal pragmatism.

  34. I believe that rtk has nailed the whole argument. To any woman who aspires to anything other than being
    a baby factory, the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy is exactly the same as the discovery of a cancerous tumour.
    The decision is obvious.

  35. Thanks for pointing out the obvious: that reasonable people disagree, so reasonably the law should provide an opportunity for the widest possibility of reasonable people’s reason.

  36. Whoa! My mind was just swiped by a train, lol.

  37. Julie wrote

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious: that reasonable people disagree, so reasonably the law should provide an opportunity for the widest possibility of reasonable people’s reason.

    In that case wouldn’t you agree that the best way to decide these matters is by a referendum on the general form of the law. The worst possible way is by rigging the Supreme Court. Next best to a referendum is allowing legislators to decide. In any case whatever is decided the marching and countermarching will continue. This issue divides and should divide people.

    Philosophical Point: All goods not yet realized are potential goods. The present status/good of the foetus is at issue and not so much the future good whether that be ‘Joe Sixpack’ or Barack Obama unless we to take seriously that idea put forward by an economist that the bringing into law of abortion in the U.S. eliminated a cohort of the criminal classes i.e. male children of young single black women. Does the fact, if it is one, that young black women are statistically the most frequent availers of this ‘service’, by a factor of 3(rate and ratio)
    , imply eugenic intent or is it one of those unforeseen consequences? Must that be added into the felecific sum? Is this leading to a ‘whitening’ of America and perhaps eliminating likely Democratic voters?

  38. Julie,

    In that case wouldn’t you agree that the best way to decide these matters is by a referendum on the general form of the law.

    For whom will you legislate? Is it not enough to vote for those in your own state, people you might actually meet? Do you have to legislate for the whole country? Indeed, why stop there when we have the economic and military might to make it possible for the whole world to enjoy legislating for one another? I can’t wait to enjoy the laws we’d get then.

    young black women are statistically the most frequent availers of this ‘service’…eugenics…’whitening’

    OK… aren’t we stepping off the deep end here? No one forced those women to have abortions and I’m sure that they went and had children when they were better ready to take care of them. While abortion should not be seen as a type of birth control, those women, were they more responsible, would no doubt have availed themselves of condoms instead. Are you now arguing that condoms are some kind of ‘vast right wing conspiracy’ against minority voters?

  39. Whoa, I think that your response is totally out of left field. I don’t think that anyone here believes that the legislation of abortion has to do with race. A black woman feels the same guilt and pain and suffering as a white woman, and that cant be argued.

  40. A racist conspiracy? Even the argument that every sperm and each ovum is holy is better than that.

  41. porkinsred6,

    Please read Julie’s post where she refers to “eugenic intent” perhaps aimed against possible Democratic voters.


    LOL. Isn’t it?

  42. Good grief.
    After reading comments here, i.e. “baby factory” and the whole racist/eugenic issue, no one had ever accuse me of being hyperbolic again. Thank you.

    Interesting how no one has brought up adoption.

  43. Not only has adoption been omitted, but how about Nebraska? That gives time to consider one’s options. Yesterday it was 13 years. In fact, I think the Nebraska solution has interesting and useful possibilities. At least it makes clear that there is a need.

  44. @ M. Harris

    Yeah, i was responding to that post, lol. But i made my post 1 minute after you did and i didn’t address it correctly. My bad.

  45. @Tree

    Adoption is kind of a mute point when it comes to abortion, no? Although adoption is an important thing to consider when you decide to keep the baby, it isnt really a factor when arguing when we CAN abort.

  46. Of course, porkin and you mean moot point.
    I just found it interesting that no one brought up adoption in light of all the other things that have been discussed here.

  47. As I understand it, the pro-choice position is a legal one, not an ethical position on whether abortion is good or not. .

    I don’t think there’s such a thing as “the” pro-choice position. There are many different arguments for keeping it legal. One is relativistic–people disagree, so there’s no right answer, so the law should be permissive.

    Another is that in fact abortion is unproblematic (the fetus is just a this or just a that), so why stop it?

    You talk about the argument that it’s going to happen anyway, so gov’t should keep it legal and safe. I see that, but it.doesn’t completely satisfy me. If I took it seriously that the fetus is a full person, so abortion is murder, I think I’d want gov’t to do it’s best to (a) prevent unwanted pregnancies, but (b) failing that, prevent abortions.

    Thanks for pointing out the obvious: that reasonable people disagree, so reasonably the law should provide an opportunity for the widest possibility of reasonable people’s reason.

    Actually, I said something less obvious. I said some disagreements are unreasonable. People who say a fetus is a full person or a tumor are being unreasonable, and they’re views should be disregarded by lawmakers.

    The reasonable range is actually pretty narrow. It runs from wanting to honor babies-in-the-making, even though they are non-persons, to thinking they can be terminated for good reasons. Within that narrow range, you can’t say one person’s being more reasonable than another.

    We actually do have laws that aim to prevent people from treating a fetus as a person or a tumor. There’s a 24 hour waiting period before you can have abortion. That’s designed to discourage treating the fetus as less than it is.
    You can’t shoot abortion doctors and claim you were saving innocent babies. That stops people from treating a fetus as a full person.

    So no, US law doesn’t tolerate the widest range of opinion, nor do I think it should.

  48. I see the 24-hour waiting period as a way to chip away at the right to an abortion.
    If a woman has already decided to have an abortion, it no longer matters how they view the fetus and 24 hours should not matter. By forcing a woman to wait another 24 hours, the government is saying, “we know better than you.”

  49. I think I have to swing with Tree on this. Doctors can recommend waiting periods, but I don’t see how government gets to say, “This isn’t illegal but you might regret it, so we’re going to make you wait.” If it were a legitimate health issue and doctors weren’t taking proper precautions, there would be an argument. But they wouldn’t, and it’s not.

  50. But…some people really don’t know what they’re aborting. They think before they’re “showing” there’s basically nothing much in there. But this is completely false. In fact, organ development takes place primarily in the first trimester! Why not encourage “informed consent”?

    The 24 hour waiting period is only a problem (in my humble opinion) for this reason–abortion providers have been scared out of business, so in some places there are very few. So women often have to travel long distances. Adding on a 24 hour waiting period can be a non-trivial burden in that situation.

  51. Jean,

    I think that if we’re not going to say that abortion is a crime, we’re going to have to admit that people who are old enough to have babies are old enough to live with the consequences of their own mistakes.

    If we feel like people are underinformed about the relevant issues, we should take steps to inform them; that’s how an open society is supposed to work anyway. Like Tree, I fear that the path of legislating prudence is a slippery slope. If the government is supposed to not merely protect our rights but look after our interests individually, where does it stop? Where 51% of the people think it should stop? Where 51% of campaign contributions pay it to stop?

  52. When I was raped and got pregnant, I was fortunate enough to have had a miscarriage. Had I not, I would not have needed an additional 24 hours to decide to have an abortion. Whatever this would have done to my conscience or my psychological condition, I would have been more than willing to bear it considering the alternative.

    I had a friend who had been raped and got pregnant and she decided not to have an abortion and her baby was adopted by family friends, in an open adoption. That worked for her, it was her choice. As it should be for all women.

    Not trying to be overly dramatic here but we can politely debate ethics and rationalize all we want, but what I wrote above is real and is what really matters, at least to me and to many other women.
    Putting aside I was financially unable to raise a child, there was no way I would have had a baby that was conceived in such a way.

    Furthermore, if a woman is in a life threatening situation, she should not be forced by law to wait 24 hours to abort. This would be considered negligent in any other medical situation. In fact, it wouldn’t have to be an emergency to be considered negligent.

  53. How about if the woman signs a paper swearing she has thought about it for 24 hours before arriving in his/her office, in fact since having made the appointment 240 hours ago and for another 240 hours before calling the doc. It’s not as if time begins only when you’re in the office.

    (Tree: I am stunned. About your friend who chose to go the adoption route, the magic word again is *chose.*)

  54. Tree, That’s horrible, and “I hear you.” But you’re assuming I don’t have relevant experience. Why? When women are talking about reproductive rights, chances are that a large number of them have relevant experience–whether they’ve had abortions, miscarriages, pregnancies, or they’ve been raped…or many of the above, or all of the above. I don’t mean to be coy…just prefer to maintain my privacy.

    In principle, doesn’t it seem important for someone to know what they’re aborting? You would know, but some people don’t know. I realize in the case of rape there’s a huge repulsion factor, and maybe in consideration of that, an exception makes sense. The good of the patient is (of course) an important consideration.

  55. On the matter of the friend who was raped…

    I read an interesting story in an Amnesty International newsletter about Rwandan women who had been raped during the genocide there, and had the children. Some said the child was “all they had” and loved them. Others were permanently ambivalent and said they could never love their children. Interesting.

  56. Jean, I never assumed you or any other woman posting here did not have relevant experiences. I’m puzzled how you got that out of my comment but I would never be so naive or rude to think that.
    I was just bringing one of my own relevant expriences to the table because I feel it’s important for people to realize this is a topic whose answers lie with the individual.

    I’m curious why it’s so important to you that a woman know what she’s aborting? Not that I’m disagreeing or agreeing with you, I’d just like to know where that comes from. Is it a need for accountability? Is it important for you to know that women feel some sort of guilt or even shame for aborting a fetus? Or just that they have a sense of responsibility?

    I think that for every law, there will be people who abuse it, but that doesn’t make the law any less useful or important nor should the law change for those who abuse it.

  57. After explaining your own real-world experience, you wrote–

    Not trying to be overly dramatic here but we can politely debate ethics and rationalize all we want, but what I wrote above is real and is what really matters, at least to me and to many other women.

    I took you to be saying others (like me) were just politely debating and rationalizing, instead of talking about what’s real and what matters to them.

    I’m curious why it’s so important to you that a woman know what she’s aborting? Not that I’m disagreeing or agreeing with you, I’d just like to know where that comes from. Is it a need for accountability? Is it important for you to know that women feel some sort of guilt or even shame for aborting a fetus? Or just that they have a sense of responsibility?

    I just thought it was interesting that our pro-choice US laws do actually take a stand on what the fetus is. By rejecting “saving unborn babies” as an excuse for killing abortion doctors, they take the stand that a fetus is not a person. By insisting on a 24 hour waiting period, they take the stand that a fetus is not a tumor.

    So all attitudes are not viewed as equal, which strikes me as interesting. I suppose a person who doesn’t own up to what a fetus really is doesn’t impress me as honest. I should think it’s a big enough decision that people ought to know. Like I think they ought to know about other things before they make decisions. Knowledge is power!

    Whether a 24 hour waiting period is really the best way to spread the knowledge is (I admit) debatable. How about ramped up sex education in schools, so boys and girls know that a pregnancy isn’t something they’ll want to end lightly? It might make people more careful about birth control. Maybe that’s a better approach.

  58. Thanks, Jean.
    The comment about politely debating ethics, etc. included myself as well. Sorry if it came off as me against everyone else, not my intent.

  59. A 24 hour waiting period seems unnecessary. Everyone’s time is valuable. In addition, a woman seeking an abortion is justifiably anxious for closure.
    Imagine that a patient with cancer would have to wait 24 hours to see a doctor. 24 hours makes little difference in the medical treatment of cancer, but immediate treatment makes a great deal of difference in the patient’s state of mind. There should be no waiting period, unless of course there is a waiting list in the abortion clinic, which is an entirely different matter. Furthermore, the 24 waiting period is patronizing about a woman’s rational right to choose.
    Does society ask a broker to wait 24 hours before he decides to sell shares? Maybe it would be a good idea, given the current crisis, but seriously, I think that even brokers have the right to choose, without waiting 24 hours.

  60. Did I do the blockquote right? In case I didn’t, I’m quoting Jean’s “Knowledge is power!)

    I think that’s a good subject for a future blog, of course after we wait 24 hours to think if it really is a good idea. The opposition could declare Knowledge is constipating! If the author of Blink is right, your first inclination is the way to go. Knowledge just confounds the issues. At least sometimes. Then again, maybe not. Well, I don’t know. On fourth thought, though……..

  61. Tree–I also apologize if it seems like I whipped past what you said about your life A lot of times I go away and think about stuff people say here, and this was one of those cases.

    So….do y’all object to the sex education (in school) approach? Shouldn’t people know about fetal development before they risk pregnancy or terminate a pregnancy?

  62. Absolutely!
    However, if you trust the statistics there is more sexual activity as a result of the sex ed.
    At a very early age I saw the bottled embryos and fetuses in the Field Museum in Chicago. It made a lasting impression, but not one I related to real life in the sense that it would ever influence by behavior.

  63. No need to apologize, Jean.

    Sex education is good in theory. Then you have to factor in parents who object to sex education in schools, schools that fucker up sex education classes, hormones, rape, the unexpected…
    Yes, I think they should know but…

  64. I was going to pass this discussion by, because the issues have been so confused by religious intervention that it’s hard to make sense of the argument any more.

    However, having said that, I think, Jean, that your way of characterising a fetus is confusing too. A fetus (or foetus) is not a baby-in-the-making. This is just wrong, in my view. A fetus is potentially a baby, and also potentially a person, but it is not a person, not a baby, and not even a baby-in-the-making unless the pregnant woman decides to make it so.

    I agree that it is not just a group of cells, and that fetal development is surprisingly fast, but that doesn’t make it a lot different than a tumour unless the pregnant woman herself decides that it is, or unless a period has passed during which a woman should reasonably be expected to have made up her mind (and even here there will be legitimate exceptions), or the fetus has developed to a point where it would stand a reasonable chance of surviving on its own and growing to adulthood. Of course, where the woman’s life is in danger, then the legitimacy of abortion is a no brainer, at any stage of pregnancy.

    It may, in certain circumstances, be appropriate to require a waiting period. However, this is fraught with difficulty, since there will be people who would unfairly take advantage of the woman at a very sensitive time in her life. And you may be assured that this would be done, if privacy could not be guaranteed. And there are probably other reasons, including, in some cases, that of imposing an undue burden on the woman, why such a rule should not be imposed.

    I think what Judith Jarvis Thompson’s intuition pump does is to demonstrate that this is a matter for the woman to decide. It is her life that will be immediately affected, and though others may have a legitimate input (the woman’s husband or partner, perhaps), the state, or religious bodies have no right to interfere in a matter of such great importance to a woman’s life project.

    Complicating the issue more than that, I think, is trying to make something out of not very much.

  65. Eric, your last paragraph pretty much sums up what I and others have stated all along.
    Where exactly do you see religious intervention?

  66. Geez. Think of all the trilions of organisms out there–apple trees in the making, whales in the making. All sorts of things are out there undergoing processes of growth and maturation. Do we actually need to go around waving magic wands and declaring which future we want for them before they are one thing or another? That strikes me as just silly, and I don’t think I need to adopt any such “woman is the measure of all things” philosophy to justify abortion.

    Thomson’s view will have no traction for women themselves trying to make this decision because of its “let’s pretend” starting point. Women want to deal with their actual pregnancies, not what-ifs.

  67. I can’t let it go.
    Eric, your last sentence is quite cavelier. I suppose as a man, it really is “not very much.” How easy for you.

  68. Sorry, Tree, didn’t mean it in a cavalier way. But if we invest the fetus with enormous significance (and it seems hard for many people to avoid this), then the woman who decides not to continue with her pregnancy is doing something of enormous significance. How can a life project compete with that? So, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive. My point is that the language we use about this is what messes us all up. I don’t think we’re forced to use the terrifically weighty language here. If we are, as I say below, it’s hard to find a way out of this dilemma. And if we can’t find a moral way out of it, as a lot of religious people think we can’t, then many women’s lives are going to be ruined forever as a consequence.

    And Jean, it’s not a matter of ‘woman the measure of all things’ at all. It’s a matter of this woman, right here, being able to make decisions about her life, and how her unplanned, unexpected, or whatever, pregnancy has an impact on her life project. She is the measure, not of all things, but of her own life project.

    Where religious intervention happens is giving religious or quasi-religious significance to fetal existence. If you do that, it seems to me, the answer is slam dunk. It’s wrong. But that, I think, is what the idea of baby-in-the-making does. Sure there are maples in the making, and if they’ve sprung up in my lawn, I’ll mow them down without thinking twice about it. But babies in the making, that’s something else again. Terminating a baby-in-the-making is a very different thing to terminating a pregnancy. I think we should leave that decision, whether she has a baby-in-the-making or an unwanted pregnancy, up to the woman concerned. We don’t get the right to describe what she’s doing. That should be left up to her. Indeed, I am a man, but that’s what I think we should do.

  69. What you say makes me think of those very strange people who regard their own limbs as alien and want to have them amputated. Should I respect their description of their limbs, just because it’s their own body that’s in question?

    But you do raise an interesting question–just how prejudicial it is to describe a fetus as a baby-in-the-making. If a woman bought into that description, would choosing an abortion be utterly wrenching? I think we can find out the answer pretty easily. I think that’s more or less how most women do think of a fetus, and most do find it wrenching, but not utterly wrenching. Contrary to what pro-life people say, this is a decision people get over. It’s not life-long torment.

    Even when a women wants a baby, a miscarriage is also not utterly or permanently devastating, from what I can see. There really is a difference between a baby and a baby-in-the-making.

    To add a wrinkle–there’s a difference between an embryo and a fetus that’s close to birth. All these decisions aren’t equally weighty.

  70. Perhaps you’re right Jean. Perhaps – I’ve never really been thought very strange before, so that’s an interesting place to be in – you are right. I’m not sure. I’ve known a number of women who have chosen abortion, and only a couple – those who really wanted a baby, but where there fetus was already damaged so much that the baby, carried to term, would have been terribly disfigured or deformed, etc. – who thought of what they were doing as terminating a baby-in-the-making.

    But in my experience, what the woman does is for her to describe. It’s not up to me. And how they describe it will have a lot to do with the loss they feel emotionally. Women with stillborn children suffer real loss. That was their baby. Women who suffer miscarriages, in my experience, do not suffer so great a loss, but there is a real sense of something very precious lost before its time. And there is really grieving. For women who have had more than one miscarriage the loss can be devastating.

    So, as I say, I don’t know. Perhaps I am very strange. But I’m not convinced. How we describe something is very important. My point is that the other person doesn’t get the right to do that. I don’t think this is a man-woman question. You’ve got the right to feel what you feel. Another woman gets the right to feel her way. That’s all I’m saying. There is no universal woman. There is no right way to feel. The weight that a woman feels about her decision. That’s her business. For women who have been taught to think of it as murder, it must be a very hard decision to make, and it must leave deeper scars. But it’s still her decision. Is that really so very strange?

  71. Wait, wait, wait…did I say you were strange? I wasn’t comparing you to the strange voluntary amputees. I was saying I’m not prepared to accept whatever descriptions people use to describe their own bodies. When those folks say “that’s not my leg,” I have to disagree.

    I think making this a private, individual thing is hard to sustain. If I get to say my fetus is a person, and abortion is murder, why am I only allowed to pronounce on my fetus? Isn’t mine just like every other?

    I think it’s important to say “it’s not a person, period.” That’s the cornerstone of keeping abortion legal. But once you get into saying what it’s not, you have to be honest. It’s also not a tumor or blob of cells, etc. If there are truths here that support legality, they don’t necessarily support a completely casual attitude.

    But now I’m probably repeating myself. Just meant to say you’re not actually strange (as far as I know…)

  72. Aw, and here I thought I had joined an elite group of very strange people! You never know, of course. Practically anything can hide behind notes on a blog! I might even be an artifical intelligence! And that, surely, would be quite strange, if not very strange?

    In fact, the whole persona that I have crafted over the last few months may be just that, just a persona that I put on whenever I go online.

    I take for granted that a fetus is not a person, though some people claim that it is. They do so on religious grounds, holding that each conceptus is given a soul at the point of conception. They believe that is compelling enough to maintain the claim that abortion is murder. This is nonsense, as you say. There is absolutely no evidential basis for making this claim, and it misuses the concept of person which has a perfectly intelligible, though perhaps fuzzy, meaning, in ordinary language and in moral discourse. Indeed, earlier theologians claimed with as little evidential basis that the soul was given to the fetus a various times during pregnancy. Aquinas, I believe (though this is from memory), says forty days for male fetuses and 60 or 80 days for female fetuses. There is no reason for making any of these claims. So, it’s just religious doctrine, and does not deserve our attention.

    That’s still not going to convince the pope and a lot of other people, so many of them are going to be strongly opposed to abortion. This doesn’t mean that they should have any say in the law, since there is no evidential basis for the claims that they make. This applies, even if there is a majority of people in a jurisdiction who say so. Majorities don’t get to define what is and what is not true for minorities unless they can give good reasons.

    Having said this, there are different views as to how morally weighty a decision this is. Now, I’m not a woman, so I don’t know how I would feel about it, but my point was simply that no one has a right to do this. I’m not even sure, once we have decided that abortion is morally acceptable, and that a fetus is not a person, whether we have the right to say how morally or emotionally weighty any particular woman must hold it to be on any particular occasion. If it’s not a person, period, then I think it is up to some women to say, as one of Wayne Yuen’s scenarios envisaged some time ago, that they don’t like sex with a condom and would prefer to use the morning after pill. And I think that calling it a ‘baby-in-the-making’ does change the moral weight of saying that, and I’m not sure that there is a basis for doing this.

    In fact, I may be wrong, but once you give some room for officials to say to a woman, ‘You’d better wait 24 hours, and think about this,’ you’ve already given it moral weight. And once you do that, you’re going to have to decide how much weight and why, and we’re back on the roundabout again, and everything we gained on the swings will be lost on the roundabout. If you want to stop the nonsense, you’ve got to stop it before this.

    But maybe I am a very strange animal, and am barking up the wrong tree. If so, I’m sorry to go on at such length.

  73. Jean: I agree with you. That’s why my position has been that it is impossible to justify abortion. In fact, increasing scientific knowledge about the fetus makes it more and more difficult to see abortion as “good”. However, it is possible to justify the legality of abortion for the reasons I already stated above and others. Those who framed the “pro-abortion” position as being one of pro-choice were quite wise. A supporter of choice cannot argue with a pro-life supporter over the status of the fetus, because the fetus is obviously not a tumor and although the fetus is not a person nor is abortion homicide, the pro-lifer will always insist that the fetus has some special status, which is hard to deny. A supporter of choice needs to emphasize the dangers of making abortion illegal and the right of women to make choices, even choices which may be framed as necessary evils.

  74. I was thinking of Joan Didion’s book, “Magical Thinking.” Could it be we engage in the same magical thinking before life begins as we do after life ends?

    All of you will roll your eyes to be sure, but I am a spiritual, even mystical person and I have no qualms in engaging in this magical thinking, not when I can see the whole spectrum of life on display around me. So while I will always defend the right to safe, legal abortion, I will also believe that a clot of blood and tissue is life, at least in its beginning stages, at least in how we can view it if we so choose. To think otherwise would place too narrow a constraint on what life is.

  75. Keith McGuinness

    amos: “even choices which may be framed as necessary evils.” “In fact, increasing scientific knowledge about the fetus makes it more and more difficult to see abortion as ‘good’.”

    I do not see how “increasing scientific knowledge” makes abortion “evil”, even if a “necessary evil”.

  76. Keith: Perhaps “evil” is too strong a word. What I mean is that there is more and more information available about the development of the fetus than when the abortion debate began over 35 years ago.
    That information makes it difficult to see the fetus as a tumor or as an undifferentiated group of cells. Thus, when confronted with a pro-life person, a pro-choice person, like myself, will find it difficult to defend abortion if he or she argues that the fetus doesn’t have a special status, not quite human or even proto-human, but far from just a group of cells.
    Therefore, as I said above, the best defense of legal abortion (which I defend) is that making it illegal does not reduce the number of abortions, but makes them more dangerous and that abortion, while not good in itself, is a necessary non-good (if you wish) for many women. Perhaps we could place abortion in limbo, ok? I see the defence of abortion or of choice as a political issue and an important one.

  77. Keith McGuinness

    amos, I’m still having trouble understanding the difficulty you allude to but do not seem to clearly state.

    You seem to be saying that the fetus does have special status but you don’t seem to say clearly what you think that entails.

    A fertilised egg can go on to become a new person, if a large number of things go right, but it is not a new person. Any definition that equates a fertilised egg with a person denies what is really involved in being a person.

    The fertilised egg is different from other cases in that one of the things that has to go right is that the mother has to devote considerable resources to maintaining it (even before the baby is born).

    What special status does a fertilised egg have that implies that a mother has to actually do that, if she doesn’t want to (or, worse, if it substantially threatens her well being)?

    There is no point here appealing to religious arguments (or assumptions). There is also no point in looking to “nature” because “out there” parents frequently kill, eat or are indifferent to the fate of their offspring (of all ages).

    That means you (speaking generally, not necessarily to you specifically) have to come up with some general moral/ethical arguments for the special status of a fertile egg as an entity in its own right.

  78. Keith: A fetus isn’t a fertilized egg, to begin with.
    Look at the photos that Jean begins the blog with, please.

  79. Jean,

    Whether a 24 hour waiting period is really the best way to spread the knowledge is (I admit) debatable.

    So….do y’all object to the sex education (in school) approach? Shouldn’t people know about fetal development before they risk pregnancy or terminate a pregnancy?

    I think this was pretty well addressed in the thread, but I did see it and wanted to reply.

    As a teacher myself, I am less than happy with way information tends to get mandated in the public school system, and I do not as a rule particularly trust sex ed programs.

    However, I definitely see a place for a kind of sex education and I’d personally like to see more discussion of moral issues as they pertain to the sciences.

    One of the more interest courses I took in university was a bioethics course. Why are there no such courses in most high schools?

  80. The only sex ed course I’m familiar with was given by an overly enthusiastic phys ed teacher in 7th grade. Maybe it was earlier. It was foolish. I’m convinced that sex ed belongs in a biology or general science class as much as religious education belongs in history or sociology. Extracting any subject from its own category and handing it to a teacher out of his/her element and therefore amateurish does the student a disservice. It also allows the instructor to infuse the subject with a big pile of values and such which parents have every to object. So, bottom line, as sex ed is taught today, I don’t think it’s benign.

  81. That was supposed to be every *right* to object to. I’m not into proof-reading.

  82. rtk,

    The closest thing I had to sex ed in high school was an impassioned warning to the girls in my creative writing course and a fairly dry but informative explanation of reproduction in biology. While students probably could have benefited from the kind of deeper appreciation of what all a fetus really entails that Jean advocates, I feel like it was more or less on the right track. I don’t recall there being any students getting pregnant while I was there and there were over a thousand students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Then again, if there were any abortions, I wouldn’t have known about them.

  83. It would be tricky teaching bioethics in a high school, but I always thought there should be a course called “The Facts of Life,” with units on everything you need to know when you become a grown-up. Like about checkbooks, credit cards, car loans, taxes…birth control, STDs, fetal development…etc. Basic stuff, and yet you can leave school knowing very little of it.

  84. Heh, I don’t think I’d be cut out teaching anywhere lower than a community college… I could never play by the rules. I’d be doing things with condoms and talking about STDs, etc…

    And that’d just be my MATH class. 😉

  85. ‘Baby in the making’ aka foetus has very much the same connotation as ‘unborn child’. It underscores the fact that pregnancy is not about the fact of being pregnant but about the child that is the natural end of it. Does one get over the deliberate disruption of this life and the closest physical relationship that there is? I include men in this question as we all know that abortion is performed to save the life of the man as often as not. Personally I don’t think so. It’s a big stone in the road that turns us into a different moral universe. Important decisions do that. Nothing will ever be the same again. Now one can expand to meet the situation or one can shrink it to fit one’s limitations. That’s the choice.

  86. Keith McGuinness

    amos: “Keith: A fetus isn’t a fertilized egg, to begin with.
    Look at the photos that Jean begins the blog with, please.”

    Ahem, yes I know that. (I’ve done a course in embryology, so I’ve probably looked at more of them than most people have.)

    Let me make my questions clearer…

    What exactly is the special status that a fetus has? And at what point in its development, from the fertile egg, does it achieve this special status?

  87. Keith McGuinness

    michael reidy: “It underscores the fact that pregnancy is not about the fact of being pregnant but about the child that is the natural end of it.”

    No: in some senses, the natural end of a successful pregnancy is a child. (I say “in some senses” because birth is still only one stage in an ongoing process.)

    The natural end of some pregnancies is miscarriage. The natural end of some pregnancies is the death of the mother or child, or both, during childbirth.

    Saying the “natural end” seems to me to be trying to imply that abortion is “unnaturally” interfering with a preordained process: because of this, it is wrong.

    If “natural” is to be the defining argument, then ALL “unnatural” interventions — and this includes all of modern medical interventions — must be banned.

  88. Keith McGuinness

    Jean Kazez: “First the pro-life nonsense.”

    Although they are almost always referred to as such, the two positions are not “pro-life” and “pro-choice”.

    They are “pro-choice” and “anti-choice”.

    The use of the “pro-life” label is an attempt to take the high moral ground and put anyone who is “pro-choice” immediately on the defensive.

  89. @Jean

    Your completely right about the “Facts of Life” course. I think the only time I learned anything about a checkbook in school was a remedial math class I took in summer school to make up algebra credits. And it didn’t explain the importance of why everyone should know how to balance a checkbook, it just taught you how. Alot of people argue that such things should be taught at home, but I? disagree. School should not only be a place of learning, but a place that prepares kids for the real world. There should also be a class that explains the credit system, and interest rates, and repossession. Now that I work with kids, and I see firsthand the things they need, I can totally see the need for such teachings.

  90. Keith McGuiness:
    When I say natural end I’m talking about expectation. You put your key in the ignition turn it and experience a death cough indicating that the end towards which a process is aimed has been frustrated. That happens and disappointment ensues. The base assumption is that things work according to plan. That they don’t is also a fact of life but one parasitic on them doing so. Natural processes are not arbitrary, they are orderly.

  91. Keith: Not being an expert on the subject, I don’t know at what point the fetus obtains its special status.
    I don’t know where you live or what kind of people you generally converse with, but I come from a country where abortion is not only illegal, but also all public discourse about abortion is tabu. Therefore, my main concern is to find arguments or discourses which validate the legality of abortion or justify a pro-choice position. Frankly, when I try to justify pro-choice positions, if I refer to a fetus as a fertilized egg, I am likely to produce shock or rejection.
    I do not have the slighest interest in convincing you that a fetus has a special status, since we both share a pro-choice position. I simply feel that your arguments, far from convincing those who are afraid to speak publically about the subject of abortion, will frighten them more. Faced with the political climate about abortion in which I live, I am quite willing to concede that the fetus has a special status, if that allows me and others to advance in winning reproductive rights for women.

  92. m.r. I do like your sentence, ” Now one can expand to meet the situation or one can shrink it to fit one’s limitations.” I wish everyone could really opt for the expansion and life proceed as before.

    The woman (girl more likely) 6 weeks unwanted pregnant, is not going to sit back and consider the pros and cons and practicality, the logic and procedures and evaluations, the potentiality of the situation – all those relaxed philosophical ponderings. Her situation is real, time is speeding ahead, Stop This Bus, I Must Get Off. Thoughts of a cute baby at the end of the line is inadmissable. Turn back the clock, undo this predicament, and with as little awareness as possible. It’s not nice, it’s not pretty, it’s not a set of images to dwell upon. This turn and twist of life, no matter that it’s the result of bad judgement or whatever, simply cannot be countenanced by those girls and women. No one should make them do so.

  93. Did we all enjoy our scrambled eggs this morning?

  94. The woman (girl more likely) 6 weeks unwanted pregnant, is not going to sit back and consider the pros and cons and practicality, the logic and procedures and evaluations, the potentiality of the situation – all those relaxed philosophical ponderings.

    You are assuming that people always experience conflict in a relaxed, cerebral way, but not so. That girl you are imagining may very well feel torn. I don’t think that’s a luxury, just for people with a lot of time on their hands.

    pregnancy is not about the fact of being pregnant but about the child that is the natural end of it.

    Actually, I think it’s both, and that’s part of the reason why girls and women do (often, very often) feel torn. Only weeks after conception, a pregnant woman experiences all sorts of bodily changes. She doesn’t just know intellectually there’s a fetus in her uterus. She feels her body, beyond her control, starting to nurture it. At the same time that she’s thinking about ending the pregnancy, she is hungry all the time, her breasts hurt, etc. etc. Her body is trying to protect the fetus, while her mind is saying “maybe not.”

    I think you have to understand the “phenomenology” of pregnancy to understand why a trip to an abortion clinic is not a happy thing for just about anyone.

    Then again, I don’t agree with Michael Reidy, who I think is exaggerating the import. “Does one get over the deliberate disruption of this life and the closest physical relationship that there is? I include men in this question as we all know that abortion is performed to save the life of the man as often as not. Personally I don’t think so.”

    If “get over” means go on happily with your life, I believe people do. If it means “never think about it again,” then they don’t.

  95. rtk, I take exception to your last comment. I thought about it. I know others have thought about it. While not all women will think this way, many will and it’s not fair to generalize.

  96. And there are some who find the thought unbearable and must push thoughts away and just get on with it, get past it, get back on track. Not face the unthinkable, but just do it. So I use the unreal Turn back the clock. Undo what has come to be in that time. It’s not logical. So, Tree, take exception. That is the meaning of choice.

  97. Scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs?

  98. Jean:
    Thanks for your careful reading. That observation of mine I would amend to -pregnancy is not only about the fact of being pregnant but about the child that is the natural end of it.

    As to whether people go on happily with their lives, some appear to, some definitely do not. According to the literature some are surprised by subsequent regret but these are other issues.

  99. rtk, I agree. And will.

    Jean, cluck cluck.

  100. I don’t know much about the phenomenology of pregnancy, obviously. I still feel, Jean, that you are being prescriptive rather than descriptive about this, and that it is very difficult, given this prescriptivity, to escape Michael’s conclusion. I suspect that a lot of the ‘phenomenology’ is about the prescriptivity that lies behind it in many contexts (not the least in Christian contexts), and that that phenomenology might be very different depending on the context in which it is experienced. Indeed, in some contexts, the bodily changes that you describe, might easily be construed as the presence of an intrusive growth in the body; and I see no reason, on the face of it, why it should not legtimately be so described by the woman for whom it appears this way.

  101. I AM saying something prescriptive: that there’s a truth a matter about what a fetus is and isn’t. It’s not a person “like us” and not a tumor. I know I’m not convincing everyone, but I still think it’s a baby-in-the-making, and that the whole pregnant body is involved in that making. If you confront that, you will not be casual about abortion, but nor will you think it is tantamount to murder. That leaves a fairly wide range of sensitive, appropriate responses.

    I would be embarrassed to say all of that if there were a huge gap between how I’m saying a reasonable, sensitive person will respond, and how actual women do respond. I’d think I was being a judgmental know-it-all, foisting what a few people feel on everyone else. I don’t feel that embarrassment because I think what I’m saying actually dovetails very well with real experience.

    Granted, I don’t have vast amounts of data. I just know some people who have had abortions, I’ve talked to staff at abortion clinics, and I’ve read accounts of people making this decision. I think there are usually tears involved, and this is not so when someone goes in to have a mole removed. There is some sense of uncertainty and loss.

    Of course, that’s certainly not always true, but it’s true often enough that I don’t feel my characterization is some sort of alien imposition. Of course that’s hideously vague, and really I shouldn’t be too adamant about this without having some facts and figures to back it up….which I don’t.

  102. Of course, that’s certainly not always true, but it’s true often enough that I don’t feel my characterization is some sort of alien imposition.

    I guess, Jean, that’s where my problem lies. Let’s suppose you can give me stats (let’s restrict ourselves to American stats) regarding the way women feel about abortion. Not surprisingly, given the overheated cultural situation, this is going to be a choice fraught with all sorts of emotional weight.

    Perhaps the probability is high. Let’s say 80%. Fine. But suppose a woman doesn’t feel that way. Can you give her a reason why she should? (A reason, that is, not based on the stats.) There she is, and she doesn’t feel that it’s a big deal. Now, convince her that she should. Notice, you can’t just appeal to your phenomenology or the phenomenology of 80% of women. She needs something else to go on. What is it?

    Secondly, if she doesn’t already feel that way, why would you want to make her change her mind? Who does this help? And how does it help the moral situation?

  103. Great questions….

    I guess I think a person who doesn’t see a fetus as having any value at all is suffering from a sort of blindness. It’s like someone who hears Bach as ugly, or doesn’t see anything beautiful about the Grand Canyon. I would worry if the person who sees nothing special about a fetus will see what needs to be seen in other situations.

    How to convince them? I think the facts convince people. Also, images. If you use type “fetus” into google images, you come up with all sorts of pictures put out by pro-life types. I find it hard to believe anyone could look at them and keep saying a fetus is nothing.

  104. I should add…

    Just because I do worry about someone who’s completely casual about abortion (are there such people?), it doesn’t follow I’d personally shove any pictures or facts in her face. The worry I have is not on behalf of a fetus–which, though valuable, is not a person. It’s more of a general worry about what she’s like, how she deals with other people and things in her life.

  105. I dunno.. Abortions are uncommon events, and unusual circumstances. I wouldn’t try to judge a person’s character based on unusual events. Seems more fair to judge a person’s character based on the everyday events… no?

  106. I’m not doing any actual judging because I am not aware of anyone having this casual attitude. Last time I knew someone who had an abortion, it was a teenaged niece of a friend. All very tearful and traumatic. So this is just a thought experiment. What if someone went for an abortion like they went to get a tooth pulled at the dentist? Would you think there was something worrisome about her? I have confessed to thinking so, and wonder what other folks think.

  107. If a woman had been raped or had had a terrible experience with the male involved (maybe the guy refuses to recognize his responsibility after the fun is over), it would seem human that the woman would consider the fetus to be just something she wanted to get rid of as soon as possible.

  108. I’m just finishing Richard Evans’ The Third Reich at War, the final volume of his trilogy. When the Russians invaded Germany, literally hundreds of thousands of women were raped, where gang rape was the norm. Many of those women became pregnant as a result. Most of them had abortions, and if they brought children to term, most of them left them at the hospital.

    My own sense, Jean, is that context makes a big difference. Your friend’s niece, for example, must have been in a situation of great stress. Tears, in such a context, are not only about abortions. There are tears of embarassment, tears of anguish because of the shame the teen may feel she has brought on her family, tears because of the solicitude and concern being directed towards her, as well as the guilt she may feel because of the cultural climate in which all of this is taking place. I’m very concerned about the air of judgement in your understanding of abortion, and how you think this judgement is confirmed by tears.

    I add here one of the most significant features of this situation that has not (to my knowledge) been mentioned so far, and that is that abortion is opposed by a large number of people for whom the use of contraceptives is almost as serious a moral offence. So I am much more disposed than you are to cut women a bit more slack.

    What if someone went for an abortion like they went to get a tooth pulled at the dentist? Would you think there was something worrisome about her? I have confessed to thinking so, and wonder what other folks think.

    No. If a woman, for example, regularly used a morning after pill, or an IUD (which is, effectively, and abortifacent), would we find it worrisome? I’m not sure, but I rather think not. If a woman went through more complex procedures time after time, one might question her sanity. Why would she subject herself to this? Not many of us like having our teeth pulled and don’t take it lightly either. But her moral probity? I’m still not convinced. In the same way, I might not understand why anyone would prefer Johnny Cash to JS Bach, but I know there are such people. Do I find it worrisome? No. It’d be an odd world where people only listened to Bach.

  109. I’m very concerned about the air of judgement in your understanding of abortion, and how you think this judgement is confirmed by tears.

    You seem to see yourself as the defender of women here but I actually think it’s just the opposite. I really do think it’s a fact that the vast majority of women experience abortion as a very undesirable, sad undertaking. If you are right in all that you say, then they are making a big fuss, when they could actually just at will redefine the fetus as nothing much, and get on with it. They are stupidly internalizing cultural and religious worries.

    The way I see it, these women are being perceptive. They are struggling with two competing goods–the good of their own development (often) and the good of nurturing life. I do think the former is very often a wise choice, but in making that choice, people do (not stupidly) experience loss.

    I do think every last woman should have a choice, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t wonder about the woman (does she even exist?) who trivializes the choice. The case of a rape victim really isn’t like that, I should add–there’s no trivialization, there’s just a much more complicated set of thoughts and emotions.

  110. Keith McGuinness

    amos: “…but I come from a country where abortion is not only illegal, but also all public discourse about abortion is tabu.”

    I understand your situation and concerns. I think the situation for women in such countries is very bad.

    “…if I refer to a fetus as a fertilized egg, I am likely to produce shock or rejection.”

    I am NOT referring to the fetus as a fertilized egg. A fetus develops from a fertilized egg.

    “Faced with the political climate about abortion in which I live, I am quite willing to concede that the fetus has a special status, if that allows me and others to advance in winning reproductive rights for women.”

    I understand but I do wonder if you are conceding too much.

  111. For what it’s worth…
    Years ago my sister had a friend who was not what I would call a bad person but someone who did not exactly push herself to excel in any way. My sister told me that this person, who was a single mother, had had 11 abortions which she considered a form of birth control and did not seem to care one bit about what she was doing.
    Would anyone be surprised if I told you her daughter started having sex at an early age and was a teenage mother?
    No one will feel the same way about abortion. No one should, that’s the whole point of choice.
    But I personally think what this woman did was terrible and incredibly ignorant.

  112. I do think every last woman should have a choice, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t wonder about the woman (does she even exist?) who trivializes the choice.

    I have understood that from the start, viz, that that was your point, of course. But I am also left qith the question that Keith raises:

    I understand but I do wonder if you are conceding too much.

    I think you do, and I think Tree’s ‘outburst’ tends to confirm it. Speaking of the woman who had 11 abortions, she says:

    But I personally think what this woman did was terrible and incredibly ignorant.

    What is more her daughter had sex early and was a teenage mother! Was that terrible or only careless? I guess I have to ask the question here whether the woman was really terrible, or just ignorant? And does being ignorant make you terrible? And what was terrible about the 11 abortions?

    I think, as Keith says, that you’re conceding too much. If there is so much moral balancing going on in choosing abortion, then, it seems easy to go from there to the idea that no one should be allowed to make this decision on their own, because it’s too weighty, and the good that is being rejected is too good, and can never be defeated the individual woman’s choice in favour of her own life project. Once you’ve said that there is something of value here, what is the value you are according to it and why? And how do you limit that value so that women are free to make this choice? It’s not that I don’t understand the reason for wanting to attribute value to what stands a chance, if left alone, of becoming an independent human life, with all the rights and privileges that that brings in its train. Okay, I get that; it’s got at least partly to do with the phenomenology of pregnancy. But surely there are people who are ready to say: If you value it that much, why do you value it so little? And I wonder if you have an answer to that question. If having 11 abortions makes you (morally?) terrible, what does one make you?

  113. Keith: Am I conceding too much? Actually, I don’t have much interest in the metaphysical status of the fetus. At some point a fertilized egg becomes a potential human being: that’s all I know.

    Where I live, pro-choice is on the defensive. The new target of the Catholic right is the morning after pill. Link to Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/05/16/chile15949.htm
    Since the article was written, the Constitutional Court has ruled that the morning after pill is not constitutional. The current government, that of Michelle Bachelet, who is a socialist, agnostic and a doctor, has found loopholes in the ruling and is distributing the morning after pill, but the probable next president (elections in 2009) will come from the right and will undoubtedly prohibit the pill. So, from my point of view, it’s not a question of conceding or not conceding philosophical points about the status of the fetus, but of a very real rightwing offensive against women’s rights. By the way, therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from the 1930’s until 1989.
    Now abortion is completely illegal.

  114. How many abortions is not too many, how many cigarettes are okay, how many cells define a baby-in-the-making, how many souls fit on the head of a pin, how many whatever? Is the choice question just a matter of quantities of shades of gray? Isn’t there a principle involved that doesn’t equal 24 hours or 11 abortions or mornings before or after?

    My own view is utterly simple. Sometimes it is necessary to health and happiness to do the wrong thing. That doesn’t make it right. It is wrong to kill, even an ant (I don’t kill them, in fact). So you do the wrong, you face up to it, get past it, and forget the phony arguments. Numbers don’t change the evil, only the degree and that’s just another number.

  115. Wow. I didn’t know I’d outbursted!
    Actually, I refrained from posting that for a while because it’s so extreme and seems a bit apocryphal; I wondered if people would believe it.

    We live in a society where birth control is easily accesible. This in itself was revolutionary not that long ago (birth control pills)
    To refuse to use any form of birth control other than abortions IS terrible and ignorant. To be this stubborn and to go to such unnecessary extremes to end a pregnancy indicates to me a woman who lacks…something. Certainly intelligence.
    It’s like thinking, “I have an infection in my finger but I won’t take antibiotics, I’ll just wait until it’s gangrene and have it cut off.”
    I definitely see your point, rtk. I adamantly defend the right to safe, legal abortion for all women and even in this extreme case, it was still her choice, but really, her behavior is just plain stupid.

    My main reason for bringing this up was because Jean, maybe others, had brought up the issue of women who use abortion in a very casual way. This seemed to fit the bill. Unable to hold back my own opinion, I tossed mine in for good measure.

  116. Well, Tree, that’s why I put the word ‘outburst’ in scare quotes. I agree, the woman is probably quite ignorant. She may also be simply unable to plan her life. That’s not unusual. When you’re poor there’s very little incentive to create an ordered world. Life just happens. Remembering to take a pill is sometimes nearly impossible, even if she has the money to buy them. It was the ‘terrible’ that was left wringing in my ears.

    I’ve known lots of disadvantaged folk over the years, whose lives, from my point of view, were so terribly disordered, sometimes so chaotic, that it is hard to think of them, in the relevant sense, as really coping at all. There are quite a lot of them. Their lives are lived in desperation, not only Thoreau’s quiet desperation.

    Some of them live in situations that would simply incapacitate many of us who have had opportunities that they never had. And very often their sexual relations, starting, often, with childhood abuse, are as disordered as everything else about their lives. Abortion is perhaps, in such a disordered state, the only way of not making a very bad situation much worse, and implicating more children in lives of poverty and abuse. In such situations, perhaps 11 abortions is not terrible at all, but actually the right thing to do. Perhaps it’s not even casual. Jean doesn’t think casual happens here. And that’s fine. But I think we need to separate our emotional response and moral judgement here. I’m not sure that that’s being done, and that worries me.

  117. Again, wow. Eric, I am compelled to c hallenge your assumptions. While I don’t disagree with your “poor people have it tough” views, the fact is I never stated this woman was poor.
    You write that we need to separate our emotional response and moral judgement here. Have you done that? I really find it fascinating that you jump to the assumption that this behavior goes hand in glove with poor, abused women. Not that poor, abused women don’t do this, but they aren’t the only ones. Does the idea of multiple abortions go down easier if you can make the woman out to be a poor, uneducated victim?

    As an aside, I am currently reading a book about Emily Dickinson, and her sister-in-law had four abortions. Actually five, but one failed and that was Emily’s nephew, who had grand mal epilepsy. Obviously, times were different in the 19th century. But, here you have a wealthy, educated woman who simply did not want to have babies or be pregnant any more than she had to.

    As for the whole “remembering to take a pill” scenario. Yes, I’m sure there are women like that but still, there are too many choices out there. Forgetting is not an excuse.

  118. Jean doesn’t think casual happens here. And that’s fine. But I think we need to separate our emotional response and moral judgement here. I’m not sure that that’s being done, and that worries me.

    I’m being emotional, while you’re making a moral judgment…. Welllll….maybe not. I think I’m making a moral judgment, and you’re making a political judgment. You want to make sure abortion remains legal. You are worried that by giving an inch, someone else is going to take a mile. I don’t even agree with you on the politics…but that’s another matter.

    About the woman with 11 abortions– there’s a difference between stupid and casual. The woman with 11 abortions was stupid, (there’s pain, expense, and a health risk associated with every abortion) but can I be sure she was casual…and thought of each fetus like a tumor or a diseased tooth?

    A great book about a poor, crime-ridden Bronx neighborhood is “Random Families”. A girl who’s central to the (true) story starts having babies at 14. She is completely out of control. At about 20, she has 4 children and she gets pregnant a 5th time. Even under those circumstances, it is not easy for her to decide what to do. So I’m not going to make any assumptions about people with disorderly lives.

    I don’t think my “pro-choice” credentials are going to fall away if I disapprove of the rare “casual” abortion (whoever it is that has them). What I’ve said is that a fetus is in a grey area, where some differences of response are inevitable, even between equally reasonable people. There are people who will attach so much value to a baby-in-the-making that they will not abort it, for any reason. They are not more reasonable than the folks who give a fetus value, but less value. There’s no basis for the law to take the side of the first group, and force the second to make the same decisions.

    Just because you disapprove of something doesn’t mean the law ought to deal with it–or I’d have to think there should be laws against voting Republican. Oh wait, that’s another topic.

  119. Well, I guess I’ve pushed this one as far as it will go. I hope I have gained something by the experience!

  120. Meta comment–paradoxically, people who are close together in the ideological spectrum argue the most strenuously. If they were farther apart, they’d just dismiss each other. I think that’s what’s going on here. If we didn’t agree on a lot, we wouldn’t be disagreeing so vehemently. And I admit…some of the vehemence has to do with polarization and the fun of debate. It would be just too boring to say “interesting point, I’ll think about it.”

  121. Malicious question: why would it be too boring to say “interesting point, I’ll think about it”? Thinking is less boring than repeating arguments. Thinking isn’t boring at all.

  122. Hey, Amos, that’s just something we say. We don’t necessarily do it! Quite often, in fact, I suspect, we don’t.

    Thanks Jean. Nice observation.

  123. C’mon Eric, I think I had a valid question and I was looking forward to your response.

    I think I’ll vote Republican…

  124. Oh, I really am sorry, Tree. When I open the blog I just click control/end and then scroll back, so I missed your response completely. Careless of me. I apologise.

    I guess what I was trying to say is that context is important. I gave two examples of context. First, the German women who were repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers, and clearly thought, not only of their pregnancies, but of their babies, as intrusive and alien. Second, poor women, who live disordered lives, and cannot seem to coordinate their sex lives with contraception.

    The only point I wanted to make was simply to ask: What is disapproval doing here? Is it moral disapproval? Or is it a sense that, say, phenomenologically, these women are ignoring an important part of what it means to be pregnant? Not being a woman, I don’t know. I could have used, as an example, women who just don’t want to have babies, and who feel that sex is important and babies aren’t. In the Diceknson’s sister-in-law case I assume that contraception was either difficult to come by, unreliable or illegal. I know that my own wife had no intention of having a child, and made that very clear, and, if the unforeseen had happened, I don’t know what the sequel would have been, but I suspect I know. So, I guess the truth is that I’m still left with my questions, but I thought I had pushed it about as far as I could go. However, thanks for your response. The point is good. But I really wasn’t trying to ‘use’ women as victims as any kind of a special emotional or moral appeal.

    You’re quite welcome to vote Republican. I’m not sure the man I saw the other night, blinking his eyes and sticking out his tongue and being negative while complaining about negativity, will be able to give anyone what they want. And, as for Sarah Palin, well, the less said about her the better! But don’t vote Republican on my account! Unlike one of my grandfathers, a notorious Tory in his county, I’m an unreconstructed Grit, and have almost always voted Liberal (a party which went down to rather humiliating defeat in our recent election). Of course, in Canada the Left is divided between Liberals, NDP (moderate socialists), and the Bloc Quebecois (an independentiste party, but which represents a largely liberal population) – and one can almost now add the Green Party, which got about 800,000 votes nationally.

  125. Thanks, Eric. Glad you responded although I have to think a bit about the disapproval issue. Oh, and work. Yes…I’m at work.

    I would never vote Republican. I just wanted to tease Jean a bit.

  126. Yes, I’ve noticed Tree wishes to torture me, because she says (repeat, SAYS) she’s going to vote for that loser, Ralph Nader. Things are lookin’ good for my candidate right now. I promise to be much more angry and irritable if things get worse in the next couple of weeks. (Ahem–two can tease.)

  127. Jean, I meant to ask, regarding your metacomment: Is this what they mean when they say that, if you put two Jews in a room you have three points of view? I think it goes for Anglicans and Atheists too, but that’s the way I heard the story.

  128. Ha. I was actually thinking of some of the past debates here among atheists. Lots of energy, whereas with people you totally disagree with you make your point, try to say something nice and civil, and move on (while rolling eyes).

  129. While I agree with your point that an embryo is not ‘a complete person like you and me’, I still disagree with abortion on the whole on the grounds that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is not merely another part of a woman. The process of meiosis ensures that the two are genetically seperate. Is it therefore reasonable to treat it as if it were an unwanted part of a woman. Although you say that a fetus is not a tumor you still seem to belive that it’s mother should have a choice about whether to destroy it or not. Certainly it is a living organism of some description and it should be allowed to thrive provided it causes no harm to others.

  130. “First the pro-life nonsense. I think it’s nonsense to think personhood begins at conception. A 5-day old embryo composed out of undifferentiated, pluripotent cells is not a complete person like you and me. A 2-month-old fetus, even with its complete set of rudimentary organs, is not a complete person like you and me.”

    Without endorsing either position about the nature of an embryo, I would ask how it is that you or I are complete. What in our developmental progress suggests completeness? That question depends largely upon one’s age. I can see how someone might argue that a biologically mature human being, post-puberty, could be considered ‘complete’, yet I still don’t completely understand the terminology. Do we ever stop growing? If so, when and how can you tell? Basically, define aging. Other questions could be ‘What is life?’ or ‘How is life different from the process of dying?’ Life is growth, and growth involves aging. Similarly, death is a part of life. What happens at conception is equally unknown as what happens at death.
    There is no discernible completion of being.

  131. Keith McGuinness

    “Certainly it is a living organism of some description and it should be allowed to thrive provided it causes no harm to others.”

    This is a strange notion of “no harm”.

    This “organism” lives parasitically at the mother’s expense for about 9 months and the process of birth is both painful and dangerous.

  132. Rand Ash–I think those are all great questions.

  133. I have tried to submit a comment, but it keeps coming up that I’ve already said. But I didn’t! It’s not there.

  134. Eric: I’ll teach you a trick. When that notice appears, change the first word of your comment and the blog will then accept it. For example, if the comment begins with “the”, change it to “that”.

  135. What browser are you using? I’ve never encountered this problem.

  136. First Rand Ash. Death is not a part of life. Dying is.

    What makes us complete in ways that embryos are not? We can live and breathe and take nourishment independently of our mother’s body. We may be dependent on others for shelter, food, warmth, and care, but we are still, in a sense in which a fetus or embryo is not, complete, stand alone, organisms.

    I think that is a vital distinction. Until then, the fate of the fetus or embryo is dependent on the woman, and her purposes and intentions. At birth, the woman is no longer free to decide about the future of the child, though the woman may be free to say, “I do not want this child.” Some do.

    Stephen, you say:

    The process of meiosis ensures that the two are genetically seperate. Is it therefore reasonable to treat it as if it were an unwanted part of a woman.

    But they are not organically separate. The fetus cannot be considered a separate organism. I think this is where Judith Jarvis Thompson’s thought experiment comes into its own. A being, linked to my own bodily organic system, and dependent upon it, even if capable of choice, does not get to choose. Whether I pull the plug or not depends upon whether this dependence is consistent with my life project. I get to choose. If I think this dependence harms my life project, then it does harm. No one else has a right to make this determination.

    That, at any rate, is my view. But, for this reason, I would not call a fetus a baby-in-making. The choice of what to call it is up to the woman. No one else gets to make this choice.

  137. Thanks Amos. That worked.

  138. Eric, You never answered my question about people with that syndrome where they experience their limbs as “not mine” and want them amputated. Surely there is a truth here, and the fact that their legs are dependent parts of their bodies is immaterial. Their limbs are, in fact–and there is a fact–theirs.

    One problem with dispensing with truth is that medical procedures aren’t done on ourselves. Someone has to cut off the leg, with the help of medical staff and in a hospital. Someone has to perform the abortion. It can’t make sense to expect these third parties to accept at face value what any patient says about their own body parts.

    By the way, Roe v. Wade certainly doesn’t take this “you choose” approach to what a fetus is. It says the fetus is not a person, period.

  139. Thank you, Jean, for persevering with the conversation.

    The fetus is not a person, period. I agree. That’s cool. But I’m not sure what the relevance of that point is.

    As to body integrity disorder. I understand that there are people who, for some neurological reason, do not map some of their limbs, and do not think of them as theirs. It’s a neurological dysfunction, and it cannot, apparently, be cured. Their body image simply does not include them. It’s a very peculiar syndrome, though there is considerable evidence to show that some people experience this. There has been some moral debate over whether it is appropriate to amputate these ‘phantom seeming – yet very real – limbs.’ And while you may not want to take a person’s judgement about his/her body parts at face value, at some point you will have to take into consideration the fact that the person does feel that way.

    I’m still not sure how this is relevant to the abortion issue, and I guess that’s why I didn’t answer the question. I’m not sure that it is appropriate to call a fetus a body part. and I think that there is a significant difference here. The fetus can become a stand alone organism, a leg cannot. I think that’s an important distinction. Unlike the loss of a leg, the loss of a fetus does not create a loss of functionality. People with body integrity disorder can still walk on their disowned limbs, pick up things with ‘phantom’ hands; after it is amputated, they need prostheses, crutches or wheelchairs. Abortion does not create a disability, though for some, I acknowledge, it creates psychological problems. I’m not sure how you see these very different situations to be related.

    As to Roe v Wade. I think that is right. The fetus is not a person, period. Does someone get to choose that a fetus is a person? No. It’s not one. But a woman still gets to choose whether her pregnancy will bring a new person into being, and then, once she’s done that, she can say, and people can celebrate with her, the fact that she is expecting a child. And then her fetus really is a baby in the making, and it is usually an occasion for happiness, as a miscarriage, in that situation, would be an occasion for regret.

    I don’t understand your reference to ‘dispensing with truth.’ Did I dispense with it?

  140. That, at any rate, is my view. But, for this reason, I would not call a fetus a baby-in-making. The choice of what to call it is up to the woman. No one else gets to make this choice.

    Aren’t you dispensing with truth here? As far as I know, you don’t think each person chooses the truth about everything. It’s the location and dependency of the fetus that makes it up to each woman to choose what it is. Right? I think that’s what you’ve said.

    I am constructing a reductio ad absurdum of that view. A limb is just as much inside the body, and just as dependent. Yet it is absurd to say that each person chooses what’s true about their limbs.

    In both cases, a person has to make sense not just to themselves, but to others. I think we aspire to get things right here, as elsewhere, but there’s a special need to make sense to others on these issues. Somebody’s going to have to perform the limb amputation or abortion. These aren’t completely private issues.

    The relevance of Roe vs. Wade: If you say a fetus is not a person, period, that is to proclaim a truth about it. You are no longer subscribing to the idea that it’s up to each woman to choose what her fetus is, or isn’t. The truth, for everyone, is that it’s not a person. There’s no reason, in principle, why there shouldn’t be more truths about what a fetus is and isn’t.

  141. Oh, I see… I thought it was clear that, given that the fetus is not a person, it is up to the woman to choose what the fetus is, to her. After all, she is the person who is going to be affected by this decision. And it is that that no one else can decide for her. What people who call the fetus a person want to do is say that the woman can’t make that decision, because the fetus has a kind of moral independence that puts it out of reach for the woman to decide. Is that what this disagreement is about?

    The truth, for everyone, I agree, is that the fetus is not a person. But what the fetus is to the pregnant woman, whether it is an intrusion into her life project, or something imposed upon her violently by others, as in the case of women who have been violently assaulted, or even, perhaps, just an inconvenience, not to mention the woman who discovers joyfully that she is pregnant, and immediately starts knitting bonnets and sweaters and little mittens: this is for the woman to decide. As to this not being a completely private issue, because someone will have to perform the abortion. I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think a woman is bound to say why she wants an abortion. (I think the body integrity angle is a red herring here.)

    Which is why I object to describing it in the way you do, for this sounds an awful lot like an expression of moral or emotional disapproval of the woman who decides to terminate her pregnancy, and, though you are entitled to your own feelings about this, you don’t have a right to impose it on someone else. And I assume that a physician who is prepared to offer this service to women has already dealt with his or her feelings about this. Calling it a baby-in-the-making is an expression of your feeling, or, it may even be (as it seems to me to be) a vestigial sense of moral disapproval; it is not a truth about what the fetus is or isn’t.

    Sorry to be so late with the reply. I’m not feeling all that well. However, if this doesn’t make sense to you, Jean, then I think we will have to say that we have reached an impasse.

  142. The body integrity thing is not a red herring because it challenges your own grounds for thinking each woman has a choice as to what her fetus is. It makes it clear that truth matters even when we are thinking about our own “dependent” body parts.

    The problem I have is that you want to proclaim truths that are helpful to choice. The fetus is not a person. You think there is a fact of the matter there. But then, for some reason, there are no further facts. After that, it’s all up to each woman whether her fetus is or isn’t a baby-in-the-making or a tumor or what have you.

    OK, I’ll leave it at that…as we are probably starting to repeat ourselves. I hope you’re feeling better.

  143. The Talmud says clearly that the fetus is as the thigh of its mother, i.e. the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman’s body.This is grounded in Exodus 21:22.

    It still remains to be decided by each woman if it against her sensibilities to dispense with her thigh. I should think if she already has a few thighs she could be excused for excising still another.

    Today, it is a commonly held belief among rabbis that the fetus is not a person until its head emerges. In the case of breach birth, it gets more mathematically complicated. Like 2/3 or 3/4 out gives the new status. However, pro-choice and anti-choice positions don’t always depend on that definition of a person.

  144. Explain to me, Eric MacDonald, why you say that death is not a part of life, and see if you can make clear sense of that assertion without simply declaratively stating it as fact and leaving that as sufficient refutation of a complex idea.

    Then, explain to me how it is that a human being that can breathe and provide its own nourishment is what constitutes the completion of life. Otherwise you may have to concede that personhood is only a matter of viability for the fetus–as soon as a fetus can survive outside the womb it is a “stand alone” organism and therefore is complete, like you and me. But I don’t think you would want to admit that. Because until the baby was prematurely born, it was a fetus, the same type of organism that you so sweepingly denied personhood, and by implication, moral worth. If dependency is what makes a person “incomplete” you had better be prepared to account for that. If physical dependence is what renders a being not worthy of moral consideration or agency even, and vice versa physical independence is the relevant factor for ascribing rights, people often do go from being complete beings to incomplete beings as they require and are dependent on artificial means of nourishment or respiration. That is a strange definition of completion, one that is both complete but then can also be incomplete. In fact, that’s not a definition of completeness at all. Being complete, or completeness, presupposes an end to a fundamental process. I asked what made our biological lives complete and you told me breathing on one’s own and processing food on one’s own. Well, good luck defending that.

    I am pretty sure that a being is not ‘complete’ simply because it can breathe and take nourishment with only the efforts of its body. Plus, I fail to see the relevance of this distinction in determining the morality of abortion. Tell me how it is ok to terminate beings simply because they cannot breathe or digest on their own, please, so that I can make sense of your argument.

  145. rtk, you’ve provided two more reasons why religion is stupid.

  146. The arguments given by rabbis, both historically and now, are complicated, subtle, and very numerous. Abortions, when permitted, are for many reasons with even more exceptions.

    A few nights ago Jon Stewart said that whenever you have 2 Jews in a room, you have at least 3 opinions. It would be impossible to throw a blanket over all of Judaism and pronounce the religion any word you choose. You could never encompass enough to make a judgement that was anything other than prejudice.

  147. I happen to know a lot about Judaism. The fact that it is entirely based on false premises, even lies, renders whatever subtle arguments they have as false and often foolish.
    My only prejudice is against religion. To imply otherwise would be a mistake.

  148. hy, Give something for help the hungry people in Africa and India,
    I added this blog about them:
    at http://tinyurl.com/5t2jg6

  149. Birth is not a duty. When the fetus is viable, it would be immoral to subject it to the trauma of being killed as its first act of consciousness. Then, and only then, does it become the responsibility of the mother to allow its birth one way or another, and that responsibility is subject to the mother’s own health and survival.
    Until the time of viability, a fetus does not have the right to life because its intellect and its resultant soul are only potentials. Potentials do not have rights.

    But viability denotes actuality, and it is at that point that the right to life begins. (This does not address the murder of a fetus by murdering the mother, which is a different subject. It is not the right of the murderer to determine the time and manner of death for either mother or child.)

    Viability is the specie of the genus of unalienability, legally speaking. Potentiality is of the specie of property, legally speaking.

    There is no doubt that life begins at conception. It is unthinkable to me that the question of when life begins could be the subject of debate, let alone of referendums or legislation or Constitutional Amendments.

    What should not be conceivable is that potentiality might someday be declared unalienable.

    Please see my entire response beginning here http://freeassemblage.blogspot.com/2008/10/ontology-of-soul.html

    Curtis Edward Clark

  150. Moral obligations aside, I look at abortion like this: The largest abortion rate per capita in the U.S. was done between 1840 and 1870 by frontier women who simply couldn’t handle another kid. These procedures were amateur ones done at home. My point being, women are going to get abortions if they want to, legal or not. Unless the government plans on becoming a totalitarian state the likes of 1984, it is impossible to stop it. The only solution that makes sense to me is to keep it legal so women can get it done safely.

  151. The problem I think is in the nomenclature. While the pro-life camp is pretty much inherently anti-choice, the pro-choice camp isn’t necessarily anti-life. They’re just pro-liberty. Personally, I wonder why anybody would want to be ANTI-choice. It perplexes me.

    So, yeah, you let people go both ways: most people will agree. Except it boils down to “I’m going to let people choose what happens to them. That’s not pro-choice, is it?”

    Well good effing luck convincing anybody of THAT.

  152. “Excise the tumor. Get rid of the cancer before it grows to have any resemblance to a human and before it dominates the woman’s life. I see no reason to wax sentimental about it.”

    I think the author did a good job of exposing the weakness in this metaphor. Apparently, you didn’t follow it. Let me give it a try. What if the father and mother are in disagreement about whether to go through with the pregnancy? And before you launch into a rage about how it’s the mother’s body, I am only asking you to consider whether the father should think his child is a tumor. This is the problem with such a flawed analogy. It can only be considered a tumor by way of convenience, and as an instrument of sophistry. I also wonder why, when the author concluded that a woman should have the right to an abortion, you felt it necessary to reiterate that a fetus should be considered a tumor, and that even to consider it a baby-in-the-making would be to “wax sentimental.” You come across as extreme, and not at all very clear in your thinking.

  153. Um, In the case of it’s a womens body let her do with it as she wishes, as in Roe v Wade. Shouldn’t this apply to suicide. Should it no longer be considered a felony. If a person wants to commit suicide it should be more pro-choice than pro-life. Correct?

  154. The best way is the natural way, and killing your fetus is unnatural.

  155. “First the pro-life nonsense. I think it’s nonsense to think personhood begins at conception. A 5-day old embryo composed out of undifferentiated, pluripotent cells is not a complete person like you and me. A 2-month-old fetus, even with its complete set of rudimentary organs, is not a complete person like you and me.”

    Killing something off before it develops into what you deem a human being is the same as waiting till it does look like one. We don’t evolve in the womb, we grow. Just because science has a different name for each step doesn’t make it any less a person in the beginning stages.

    Now that you made it it’s easy to be pro-choice isn’t it?

  156. That last line is about as intelligent as saying “because you’re a man, it’s easy to be anti-choice, isn’t it?”

    Anyway, this isn’t about the scientific terms. Jean’s point is that: “A fetus is a bunch of cells in the process of becoming a baby.” “baby” not being (specifically) a scientififc term. She’s not talking principally about scientific labels, so much as our conception (excuss the pun) of what it is to be a “person”.

  157. excuse the pun, even…

  158. Sperm has potential to become a future human. The potential argument is worthless. Every hour you spend not ejaculating into a woman you are denying a person an entire future, by the pro life argument…

  159. I hate the “women will do it whether it’s legal or not, so we should make it legal and safe” argument. It can be applied to anything considered a crime that people break the law about. There’s always thefts, should theft be legal?

    That said, I’m completely in favor of a woman’s right to choose. It is her body. I think the anti-abortion camp would have more of a leg to stand on if they found a way to remove a fetus from a woman’s womb and put it in an artificial one. Then, they could argue that it was just as safe to allow the fetus to develop, and be put up for adoption, without the woman’s involvement. Though I think that would lead to problems down the line, it would be a better argument than any of the ones made now.

    It’s the woman’s body, period. I’m sorry if the fetus relies on it, that sucks for it. But it’s not a person, and even if it was the philosophical position would be logically clear: a person’s rights don’t include overriding another person’s rights. And since a fetus is clearly less than a person, the argument is even clearer. To those who think that a fetus is a person, or that it’s ‘easy to be pro-choice’ now that you’re already born, please stop using trite phrases and make actual points. Because the whole ‘it will develop into a person, so it is a person’ argument is invalid, due to the fact that it can be applied just as easily to eggs and sperm, and there’s no logical basis to draw a line of distinction without bringing in religion.

    And I disagree that a baby is not a tumor:

    1. a swollen part; swelling; protuberance.
    2. an uncontrolled, abnormal, circumscribed growth of cells in any animal or plant tissue; neoplasm.

    I think that fits nicely.

    You can say, well, maybe they’re similar, but there isn’t a woman who gets skittish about removing a TUMOR, they’re entirely BAD. I disagree with that, too. Women who have breast cancer, or who have ovarian cancer and, after surgery, will not be able to have children anymore, agonize over it. In the end, they almost universally choose to do it, because there isn’t an alternative. The tumor has no real chance of ‘going away’ in nine months, which is a difference. But other women say ‘just cut off the boob, not a big deal’. And other women say ‘well, it’s abortion time. Shit, and i was going to go jogging.” Now, that’s flippant. But I think my point is valid.

    As regards to legislation: No government should prohibit it due to the fact that it has no right to do so; if it does, it is violating a woman’s inalienable rights. 24 hour waiting periods are just attempts to let religion and hormones (which drive the woman’s ‘mothering’ instinct) dissuade her, since they can’t make it illegal.

    As regards to personal choice: the reason there’s ‘conflict’ is for the same reason that there’s conflict regarding dress codes or promiscuity; people don’t base all their morals off logic. They base them off of several things (hopefully logic included), not the least of which is their religion. So there is no single ‘catch all’ logical argument. After all, if everyone here agreed that souls not only existed, but were implanted by god at conception, this whole argument would have an entirely different track. Then an argument at personhood could VERY reasonably be made, which might change the framework of the argument.

    On a side note:
    Here’s a question for those assembled: what about the dad’s rights? i don’t mean to make the woman have an aboriton, that’s ridiculous. But i do mean to legally abort his responsibility…in most countries, its entirely up to the woman wehther she has and keeps the baby, and if she does, the dad is obligated to support her. I think that is unfair. Just as the woman has a choice, I think it is logically incoherent to not allow the man to have a choice.

  160. At what point in the pregnancy would you say that this growing group of cells actually turns into a baby? Maybe the baby is still developing the genetic material to become a full term baby, but you too are just a mass of cells. People with chromosomal defficiencies (like down syndrome) never do complete the entire cell development so to speak because they’re missing some…so are they never completely a person?

  161. First off, this post disgusts me. Comparing an unborn BABY to a tumor…just sick. If you dont want to get pregnant than dont spread your legs. Less than 3% of abortions performed a year are due to medical issues, rape, and incest…so that being said, it is being used as birth control and that it ridiculous! I am for the morning after pill though because I dont really consider it a baby til it has a heartbeat…and after 72hrs of conception it is just a couple of cells…and whos to say your even pregnant then? You just take a pill and it makes you shed your uterine lining like a menstrual period. Why is abortion NOT an option for these people? There are SOOO many couples out there that can not have a baby of their own and would give anything to make your ‘unwanted, TUMOR’ a WANTED and LOVED little baby…

    I just want to know if you guys really think GOD would be ok with abortions?!?! And if he would think its a WOMAN’s CHOICE whether or not her baby DIES?!?!…

  162. ^^^ meant to say ‘Why is ADOPTION not an option for these people’

  163. @ Shannon:

    “I just want to know if you guys really think GOD would be ok with abortions?!?!”

    You mean this God?

    “And if men struggle and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life…” –Exodus 21:22-25

    Apparently this God doesn’t believe that “life begins at conception.” Where do you Christians get your ideas? Shannon, STFU and go read your goddamn Bible!

  164. “I dont really consider it a baby til it has a heartbeat…and after 72hrs of conception it is just a couple of cells”

    Oh, mighty Shannon, please pontificate for us your humble servants further. Just when does a clump of cells become a person? And what would your precious “God” think of your judgment on this matter? Did you know that his chosen people, the ancient Hebrews, did not consider the fetus a person, but that personhood was conferred upon birth? But you didn’t.

  165. Holy Abortion? « The Nicodemist - pingback on February 20, 2011 at 1:43 pm
  166. I just book marked your blog on Digg and StumbleUpon.I enjoy reading your commentaries.

  167. i think that if that bonafide person (famous violinist) were only going to be hooked to life support for 9 months and was able to live again after that, yes it would be a horrible thing to pull the plug, a selfish thing indeed. That is what you left out of the equation, probably on purpose, so that your point could remain. but it doesn’t.

  168. btw i think anyone who compares a spider to a potential human being is an idiot, and i am someone who has considered abortion. I think you should come up with more plausible and just reasons for abortion justification, so that you do not sound so ridiculous

    here, read this, gain some knowledgehttp://www.efn.org/~bsharvy/abortion.html

  169. Hannah, it seems pretty obvious that the violinist was then going to live afterwards (or at least had a reasonable chance of living). (You can read the full description of the thought experiment in the link below.) I’m not sure you can say it’s obvious that a person should therefore be forced to personally provide for the violinist’s needs. It’s most convincing in the case of rape. Julian Baggini has a modified version in his book ‘The Pig That Wants to be Eaten’, that analogises better to accidental pregnancy.


    Also, no one is saying a spider is the same as a potential human, just that how we can treat things like spiders (and trees, paintings, corpses) can raise very tricky questions that reasonable people may disagree on.

  170. R.F.J. Seddon’s Log :: Pre-Post-Natal Harm? - pingback on June 27, 2011 at 11:39 am
  171. I think that post the first child, no child benefit and the option of abortion or giving the baby to a pro life family who are required to take it, or fund it yourself, is the appropriate response.

    Those that feel life, no matter how ill conceived, is precious, should be required to care for it. I personally don’t see why I should.

  172. We will all be held accountable for the things we do. We all have our sins. This isnt something that can be solved by philosophy or debate.

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