Tag Archives: abortion

God, Rape & Mourdock

Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

In a recent debate, Republican Richard Mourdock was addressing the subject of abortion. After noting that he believes that abortion is acceptable only to save the life of the mother, he went on to say: “Life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

As might be imagined, Mourdock has come under attack for his remarks. These attacks have primarily focused on what his claim indicates about his view of women and the sort of legislation he is likely to support.

Rather than address these matters, I will instead focus on his claim that if a woman gets pregnant from rape, then God intended it to happen. While this matter deals specifically with rape, it is part of the general problem of evil. This is, of course, the problem of reconciling a certain conception of God (all good, all powerful and all knowing) with the existence of evil (in this case rape). It also falls under the general subject of God’s causal relation to the world.

While he might not be aware of it, Mourdock is presenting a view of God that has been argued for by theologians and philosophers. To be specific, this is the view that God is the cause of all that occurs and that nothing occurs contrary to God’s intention.  For example, Hume in his essay on the immortality of the soul, writes  ”as every effect implies a cause, and that another, till we reach the first cause of all, which is the Deity; every thing that happens is ordained by him…”

As far as things happening against God’s intention, this would seem impossible given the usual conception of God. After all, things could only go against His intention if He lacked the power to do otherwise or the event in question took place without His knowledge. On the assumption that He is all knowing and all powerful, then events happening contrary to His intention could not occur. Thus, if someone becomes pregnant from rape, then God (if He exists) intended that to happen-just as Mourdock claimed.

One reply to this is that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention, such as pregnancy arising from rape. The obvious reply is, of course, that if allows it and could prevent it, then He does intend for it to occur. If He cannot prevent it, then this would entail that God is rather different than the stock conception of a perfect deity.

It might be replied that God allows things to happen contrary to His intention because of free will. While this might get Him off the hook in regards to allowing rape, it does not do so in the case of pregnancy. After all, God could allow rapists the freedom to rape and still prevent rape from causing pregnancy. He could, for example, give women that pregnancy shut down system that Akin infamously mentioned. Or, even better, he could allow people the free will to chose to rape but prevent them from ever acting on that choice. As such, it would seem that if God exists and matches the stock description, then God does intent for the pregnancies that arise from rape.

There is, of course, still the question of whether not women should be legally compelled to endure such God intended  pregnancies. It could be argued that since God intended the woman to get pregnant from rape, then abortions should not be allowed since God’s intent should not be violated.  The easy and obvious reply to this is that the same logic would entail that we should do nothing in response to anything other than to accept it rather than go against God’s intent.

It can also be argued that we can determine  God’s intent by allowing abortion in such cases. After all, if God intends for the pregnancy to go through, then God can make that happen. If the abortion succeeds, then either God intended for it to succeed (and thus the abortion should have been conducted) or God is lacking in some manner (or does not exist).

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Why can’t men shut up about abortion?

Why won’t men just shut up about political issues to do with women’s reproductive rights, particularly about the legality of abortion? After all, we (us blokes) are not directly affected by a ban on having an abortion, so why should we get a say in whether someone else gets to have an abortion or not? Furthermore, we are not epistemically qualified to have an opinion on the matter – how can I, as a man, imagine what a woman goes through when confronted by the prospect of becoming a mother against her will? How can I understand the responsibility, the anxiety, even the fear with which the woman – perhaps a confused and terrified teenage girl, or perhaps a traumatised rape victim – may be faced?

And if I can’t understand it, really, viscerally understand it, what gives me the right to open my big mouth about it?

So the arguments seem to go. This has become a popular meme: I’m confronted on a daily basis with claims, whether in the social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, or in the mainstream media, such as newspapers, with the claim that men should simply shut up about these issues and leave it to women to make the decisions. I don’t know how this would work, but I suppose we might imagine a world where men make no arguments one way or the other about the goodness, badness, rights and wrongs, or political tolerability of abortion. Perhaps laws would be enacted only by female legislators, with men abstaining from all votes in houses of parliament and the like.

As it happens, though, I don’t plan to shut up. One reason for that is that I am actually pro-abortion, so I don’t see why I should shut up unless all those anti-abortion men reach a deal with me to do likewise, and there’s not much prospect of that. In fact, any man who took the arguments seriously as to why men ought to shut up about abortion would probably be one who is already inclined to favour legal abortion, so the argument, if it persuaded anyone at all, would probably have a perverse effect, shushing exactly the wrong men – as seen from the likely viewpoint of the argument’s proponents.

I suppose the argument does accomplish one thing. It problematises whether or not men have the experience or imagination to understand why it is so important for women to have abortion rights; and that might, I suppose, make some anti-abortion men hesitate. While it is not likely to shut them up entirely, some of them might ask whether they are, in fact, imaginatively restricted, and whether they are, therefore, not properly weighing the interests at stake. Some might even attempt to stretch their imaginations to try to get a better concept of what it might be like to be confronted with the sorts of choices that women frequently encounter.

As it happens, men often do have pretty good imaginations (with rich experiences of anxiety, fear, inner turmoil, crushing responsibility, and so on, to draw upon), and I’m not at all convinced that we’re unable to imagine something of what it must be like, if we genuinely try. Indeed, some men may be better able to imagine it than many women who have never encountered the situation and perhaps are not sympathetic. If we are prompted to stretch our imaginations, I submit that that’s a good thing.

At the same time, the argument may (here is a second thing) serve the cause of feminist solidarity, encouraging resentment at unimaginative and unsympathetic men who pay little attention to the interests of women. While the argument cannot be taken literally, we might think, it plays a useful role in expressing resentments, attracting solidarity and participation, and rallying women to the political cause.

That’s all fine, but the fact remains that the argument can’t be taken literally. Anti-abortion men are likely to be driven by convictions that will keep them talking no matter how much we tell them to shut up. After all, some may believe that they are carrying out the will of God in opposing abortion. Now, if they’ve read some books about secularism (such as mine!) they just might be persuadable that this does not provide a proper basis for the state to act, but whether they’re persuadable will depend on their deeper theological views. Secularist arguments may appeal to many believers (I certainly hope so, and I think there is a fair bit of historical and sociological evidence that they can), but surely not to all. And even if Mr. Believer thinks that certain arguments should not support action by the state to prohibit, say, abortion, he might still think that they support social or moral condemnation of some kind. In that case, he can take a secularist approach to law-making, but it won’t shut him up about his moral convictions.

Furthermore, many opponents of abortion, irrespective of their sex, can imagine the highest level of anxiety, fear, difficulty, inner turmoil, and so on, for someone who is forced to become a mother against her will, but still oppose abortion. These opponents of abortion are likely to think that abortion is equivalent to murder, or at least something very like murder, in which case they will say that none of the interests of the woman can justify it. However bleak my future may be if I fail to murder someone, that does not usually give me the legal right to do so. There are exceptions for self-defence, but analogies between abortion and self-defence are notoriously tricky and contested.

As it happens, I don’t think that abortion is anything remotely like murder. The trouble is that I don’t see why someone who disagrees with me ought to shut up about it. If he or she holds a contrary position in good faith, and is prepared to back it with arguments, then s/he not only has the legal right to do so, but perhaps also has some legitimate claim on the rest of us to listen (at least if we haven’t heard and considered it all before). And if this (let’s say male) person is truly convinced that abortion somehow harms a fetus much as our deaths would harm us, surely it’s unreasonable for me to expect him to hold his tongue about it. It might be relevant to try to get him to imagine what is at stake for women who contemplate abortions, but even if he tries and succeeds it might not shake his conviction (even though he might, I suppose, come to feel a bit more sympathy and speak with more compassion).

In the upshot, the argument that men should go quiet about abortion may have a role to play if it is not taken literally. That is, if it is used as a challenge to men to use our imaginations or recognise our imaginative limits, and/or if it is used as a way to rally supporters and encourage feminist solidarity. If taken literally, however, it does not have much merit. Anti-abortion men can’t reasonably be expected to shut up, given their likely reasons for the positions that they take and the religious, moral, and/or metaphysical beliefs that their reasons draw upon.

I think there are other problems, too. I doubt that any serious thinker about contemporary politics can avoid taking positions that then entail views on the abortion debate. Keeping entirely silent may not be a practical possibility once you start thinking and talking about almost any other set of fraught political issues. In any event, I won’t go quiet about abortion any time soon. I am one man – obviously one among many – who will go on defending women’s reproductive rights, most certainly including robust abortion rights.

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Anti-Abortion as a “Cheap” Moral Position

, member of the United States House of Represe...

, member of the United States House of Representatives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A moral position comes with a price, or more accurately, prices. After all, the cost of holding a position is one thing and the cost of actually acting upon that position can be quite another.  There is also the matter of the cost of professing a moral position—after all, one might hold a position that is kept secret or profess a position one does not actually hold.

This, of course, assumes that a person can hold a moral position while not acting upon it—something that seems not only intuitively plausible but actually likely in many cases. For example, a person might hold to the view that s/he should help others in need, yet drive past someone in need because it is, for example, raining a bit too hard. It might be objected that a person who does not act upon a moral position does not actually hold that position, but this seems analogous to laws: it is one thing to have a law on the books and quite another to actually enforce it.

The price of a moral position can also vary considerably from person to person depending on the specifics of their situation. For example, the cost of holding and acting on a moral position supporting free speech is very low in the United States and rather higher in China. While the general notion of costs could be discussed at great length, I must now turn to discussing the main concern, namely being anti-abortion as a “cheap” moral position, specifically in the United States.

Obviously enough, the cost of holding to and acting upon an anti-abortion moral position will vary from person to person. In some cases, the cost could be very high indeed. For example, imagine a young girl living in poverty who has been impregnated by rape and is also morally against abortion. For her, the cost of acting upon her position could be very high indeed. In other cases, the cost could be fairly low. For example, a wealthy man who has no children could almost certainly hold and act on the anti-abortion position with far less cost than the girl in the previous example. It is also worth noting that the cost of a moral position can also be a cost inflicted on others. For example, while the man in the second example might pay little personal cost for his position, if he were an influential politician and acted on his position to create laws, then the cost of his position might be high for others. For example, if he saw to it that abortion was outlawed in all cases, then the girls and women affected could pay very high prices indeed for his moral position.

In the United States, there is almost no difference between men and women in regards to their views on the issue of abortion (and most American favor the right to abortion). What is, however, rather interesting is that the politicians and pundits who most actively claim an anti-abortion position are men. For example, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin have gotten considerable attention for their professed views on abortion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that in the United States women are still in the minority when it comes to holding office or being a national pundit.

It is also interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who take the anti-abortion view tend to be social conservatives or religious (or both). For people in these categories, the cost of their position varies considerably.

For example, the Catholic Church takes a strong stance against abortion. However, the Catholic Church pays a price for this position in that Catholic charities provide aid and support to girls and women who seek help from them. As such, the church is clearly willing to bear at least some of the cost of holding and acting on the anti-abortion moral position. To be specific, they are unwilling to push the full cost of their moral position onto others by simply telling them “no abortions, but you and the child are on your own.” Rather they say “no abortions, but we will help you in your need.” Obviously enough, the Catholic Church can still be criticized for its position, but it would be wrong to fault them for their charity. Unfortunately, some people take the anti-abortion position but want to get it on the cheap.

As noted above, many of those who hold to the anti-abortion position are social conservatives. It is thus not surprising that they also tend to be fiscal conservatives and thus typically oppose social programs aimed at helping those in poverty or need. Republican VP pick Paul Ryan, for example, is well known for embracing Ayn Rand’s economic views regarding these sorts of altruistic (or “collectivist”) programs. He did, however, attempt to distance himself from Rand in some philosophical matters. After all, Rand was not known for her theism and was a clear supporter of abortion rights (which are consistent with her other views).

While many women are in the position to have children without undue hardship, there are also many women and girls who are not in such a position. For example, girls in the lower economic classes are generally ill able to bear the cost of pregnancy and raising a child. There is also the matter of the cost of an unwanted pregnancy in terms of a person’s life plans. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can put an end to hopes of an education or career. There is, of course, also the matter of pregnancy inflicted by rape and the potential costs to the victim.

As might be imagined, cutting or eliminating social programs in accord with the conservative ideology would mean that the women and girls in question would bear the costs of the anti-abortion position of those holding to the conservative position on abortion. As such, it would seem that the anti-abortion and anti-social support views of the conservatives would entail that the women and girls would bear the cost of these views rather than those holding to the views.

These views are, of course, generally cheap for the holders in question. After all, people like Ryan and Akin are unlikely to be in a situation in which someone close to them is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and also lacking in financial support.  As such, they can hold to their view with little chance of having to pay a meaningful or significant price. It is, in effect, a free moral stance for them. However, for the women and girls who experience an unwanted pregnancy and lack adequate means of support, the cost would be rather high indeed if the anti-abortion and anti-social support views became the laws of the land.

One interesting (and ironic) way to characterize the approach of social and fiscal conservatives who are anti-abortion and anti-social support is as engaging in ethical parasitism. That is, they are holding to moral positions while expecting others to pay the cost of these views. A less harsh way to put it is that they are living on ethical subsidies: the costs of their moral views are subsidized by other people who would pay the actual cost, should those views be imposed upon the country. Since I am opposed to such free-loading, I am morally opposed to these moral welfare kings who are unwilling to pay for their own ethics.

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Contraception, Again…

viagra is a commercial produced medicine conta...

Image via Wikipedia

It seems a bit odd arguing about contraception in 2012. After all, the matter seemed to have been large resolved some time ago.  While it is tempting to say that Contraception 2012 is a manufactured conflict, there do seem to be some points worth addressing in this context.

One talking point that has been presented by some folks, such as mainstream American media personality Rush Limbaugh, is that insurance coverage of contraception is the same thing as paying someone to have sex.

In the case of people who are prescribed contraceptives because of medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts), this is obviously not the case. In cases in which the person is simply using the contraception as contraception, she is still not being paid to have sex any more than the coverage of Viagra and comparable medicine for men is paying men to have sex. At most, what is being paid for is the means to have sex (Viagra) and the means to avoid getting pregnant (contraception). True, these are connected to sex, but covering either is not the same thing as paying people to have sex.

Another common talking point is that the plan to cover contraception will be “using people’s money” to pay for something they do not approve of.

One obvious reply to this is that for most folks insurance coverage is either paid for by the individual or as part of a benefit package for a job. Either way, the person is earning her coverage. To use an analogy, my insurance covered my quadriceps tendon repair (mostly). This was not using some other people’s money since I pay for my insurance. Likewise, if a woman get contraception covered by her insurance, she is paying for that (either directly or by getting benefits as part of her compensation).

It might be countered that some women get coverage from the state, so tax dollars could go to pay for birth control. Since some folks are against contraception or do not want to pay for it, this should not be done.

The stock reply to this is that our tax dollars are routinely used to pay for things that we might not want to pay for or that we might even oppose. For example, I’d rather not have my tax dollars pay for subsidies to corporations and I certainly don’t want to be paying for other dudes’ Viagra.  This is the way democracy works-provided that the spending is set up through due process, by agreeing to the legitimacy of the state we also give our consent to the spending-even for things we would rather not contribute to.

Naturally, it can be argued that we should not be required to pay for anything we oppose and this has considerable appeal (see Thoreau’s arguments about civil disobedience for an interesting look at this matter). However, if we adopt this principle for contraception, it must also apply across the board. So, for example, folks who are against war can insist that war should not be paid for using tax dollars and so on. It seems likely that for every proposed spending there will be a person who opposes it-thus the state should not spend money on anything. While this would solve the deficit problem, it would seem a rather absurd solution.

A third talking point is that contraception should not be covered because it does not treat a condition. This is most often brought up when defending the coverage of Viagra (which restores a natural function).

The easy reply to this is that some forms of contraception are used to treat medical conditions (such as ovarian cysts). As such, this use should be covered. But, of course, this would not warrant the coverage of contraception as contraception.

One reply worth considering is that the framing of the debate begs the question against women. After all, the claim is that anything that is covered must treat or prevent a harmful condition and this would exclude contraception (except in cases in which a women would be medically harmed by being pregnant). However, this framing tends to be simply assumed rather than being argued for, which is rather unfair to women in this regard. After all, the matter of pregnancy seems to be unique (and limited to women) and hence it seems questionable to insist that it must automatically fall under the framing in question. It can, of course, be argued that it does-but an argument is wanted here to show that is the case.

While some might be tempted to cast pregnancy as the harmful medical  condition that is being prevented by contraception, the idea of casting pregnancy as a harmful medical condition has rather limited appeal. After all, while pregnancy puts considerable strain on the woman, it seems rather difficult to cast it as an illness that needs to be prevented or treated as if it were comparable to measles or cancer.

A more fruitful line of approach is to argue that contraception provides medical control over a woman’s quality of life. That is, it enables her to chose whether to be pregnant or not. Doing this clearly falls under the domain of medicine and women do seem to have a legitimate claim to this right. After all, much of medicine deals with maintaining a desired quality of life and women would seem to have as much right to that as men.

Naturally, it might be countered that I am treating pregnancy as a disease (which would be some major rhetorical points against me). But this is not the case. All I am claiming is that given that pregnancy can be rather challenging for a woman and, of course, a child is a major consumer of resources a women has a legitimate right to use medical means to maintain her desired quality of life-just as a man has a legitimate right to use Viagra and its ilk to maintain his desired quality of life. Just as Viaga is covered as a quality of life drug, so should contraception.

A fourth, somewhat uncommon,  talking point is that contraception is on par with abortion, so covering contraception is covering abortion.

One stock reply is the obvious fact that contraception lowers the number of unwanted pregnancies and this lowers the number of abortions. As such, folks who are worried about abortion would seem to have a good reason to favor covering contraception.

Of course, some folks contend that contraception is like abortion in that it prevents a possible person from becoming an actual person. While this does have some philosophical interest, it would seem to entail that every moment I am not out and about impregnating women, I am engaged in acts comparable to abortion. After all, by not impregnating as many women as possible, I am preventing some possible people from becoming actual people. Put a bit less absurdly, if I am practicing abstinence, then I am effectively engaged in abortion since all those possible people will never become actualized.

It could be countered that this only applies to cases in which I am actually having sex (and presumably that I should only be having sex with a woman I am married to). That is, every time I have sex, there should be a roll of the dice to see whether or not the woman gets pregnant. Presumably if either of use chooses to use any method that lowers the probability of pregnancy, then this would be on par with attempting an abortion.  As such, the only acceptable family planning would be to decide to have sex only when one plans on a pregnancy since intentionally preventing it would be unacceptable. I would be interested in seeing some arguments for this that do not involve an appeal to theology.

 

 

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Virginia’s Ultrasound Law

English: The state seal of Virginia. Српски / ...

Is that an ultrasound probe?

The Virginia state legislature is on track to pass a law requiring women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before being permitted to have an abortion. As might be imagined, there is considerable opposition to this law. Some critics have  even argued that forcing women to undergo an invasive procedure could actually be a sex crime under Virginia law. As might be imagined, this matter raises numerous moral concerns.

One point of concern is that, as presented in comedic fashion on the 2/21/2012 Daily Show, some of the folks supporting the bill seem to be directly violating their own professed principles regarding the appropriate role of the state. For example, the woman who put forth the bill previously argued against “Obamacare” on the grounds that the state should not make such an imposition on liberty. As another example, the governor of the state was critical of the TSA “pat downs” as being too invasive. He has, however, expressed his intent to sign the bill into law.

As might be imagined, forcing women to undergo such an invasive procedure seems to be rather inconsistent with the past arguments by these folks regarding individual liberty and the appropriate role of the state. After all, if it is unacceptable for the state to force people to buy health insurance because it violates their liberty, forcing a woman to undergo penetration against her will seems to be even more unacceptable.

Naturally, I am not claiming that these people are wrong now because their current view seems to be inconsistent with their past views. After all, doing this would be a fallacy (ad hominem tu quoque). However, it is fair to simply take the reasons they presented against forcing people to buy health insurance and apply them to their own view on the forced ultrasounds. As such, if they were right then, then they would seem to be rather wrong now. Naturally, people tend to not be very big on consistency-as Mill noted in his discussion of liberty, people generally take the view that the state should do what they want and do not base this on a consistent principle regarding what is fit and unfit for the state to do (or not do).

The most important point of concern is, obviously enough, whether or not it is right for the state to mandate such a procedure. While, as noted above, proponents of this bill seem to have railed against state imposition in other matters,I will accept that  there are cases in which the state can justly impose. The question then is whether or not this is such a case.

The most common basis for justifying state imposition is the prevention of harm. To use an obvious example, the state justly forbids people from stealing. In the case of the ultrasound, the assumption seems to be that this law will help reduce the number of abortions and this will, as some folks see it, combat a harm. However, the evidence seems to be that this will not be the case. Dr. Jen Gunter has a rather thoughtful analysis of this matter that addresses this point. As she notes, sex education,access to medical care and  contraception have the greatest impact on reducing abortion rates. These are, oddly enough, often opposed by the same folks who are vehemently opposed to abortion. As such, the law makes no sense as an abortion reducer even if it is assumed that the state has the right to make impositions with the goal of reducing abortions. In light of this, it would seem clear that the law is morally unjustified.

Even if the law would, contrary to fact, reduce the number of abortions, there is still the question of whether or not the state has the right to make such an imposition. After all, there are appealing arguments for individual liberty and keeping the government out of peoples’ business-often made by the very same people who back this particular intrusion into liberty (as noted above). My general principle is that the burden of proof rests on those who would make such impositions into law. That is, they have to provide a sufficient reason to warrant impinging on personal liberty and choice. As its stands, the proponents of this law have not made such a case. After all, it will not even achieve its apparent goal of reducing the number of abortions. There are also no legitimate medical reasons for making such an imposition and, as such, it seems to be an unwarranted and  needless attempt to legalize the violation of the rights and bodies of women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pro-Life, Pro-Environment

Human fetus, age unknown

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Protect Life Act

Abortion Rights banner

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Abortion is a matter of seemingly endless moral and political debate. In the latest round, the Republican controlled House has passed the Protect Life Act. Two of the main aspects of the act include preventing federal money from being used in health care plans that cover abortion and to allow health care workers to refuse to perform abortions. This includes cases in which an abortion is medically necessary to save a woman’s life.

The first aspect of the act seems to be at least partially a solution in search of a problem. The Affordable Care Act (known by the dysphemism “Obamacare”) already prevents public money separate from private insurance payments covering abortion. However, the is a common misconception (intentionally fueled) that “Obamacare” pays for abortions.

The act goes beyond this in an attempt to restrict coverage of abortion. The bill, if made into a law, would forbid women from buying private insurance plans including abortion coverage. This is, of course, limited to purchases made through a state health care exchange.

The main justification for this aspect of the bill is that the Republican backers claim that taxpayer dollars should not go to abortions. Of course, the bill goes beyond that and attempts to restrict women’s choices.

On the face of it, the justification has a certain appeal. After all, in a democratic (or republican) system, the taxpayers have a right to decide where their tax dollars are spent (and also to have a role in decisions in general-if only via representatives). As such, if the majority of Americans are opposed to having tax dollars go to abortion, then it would be presumably correct to not provide such funding. Majority rule and all that would serve as the moral justification. This would, of course, entail that the same principle should apply uniformly. So, for example, if the citizens did not want subsidies going to corporations or did not want to fun capital punishment, then such things should not be allowed.

In the case of abortion, most Americans hold that it should be legal. While this does not entail that they want to fund abortions, it would seem to indicate that abortion rights are accepted by the majority of Americans. As such, attempting to restrict these rights under the guise of keeping taxpayer money from funding abortion would seem to be somewhat deceptive. After all, it is one thing to prevent public money from being used and it is quite another to forbid women from buying private insurance with their own money. It is especially ironic given the Republican mantras about the free market and individual choice.

Also, if most Americans favor the legality of abortion and the Republican backers of the bill are claiming that they are right to impose restrictions based on the fact that some people are morally opposed to abortion, then it would seem to follow that anything that is morally opposed should not be funded. This would include capital punishment, war, the drug war and so on. In fact, it seems likely that very little would be left with public funding. Naturally, it could be argued that the moral opposition would need to be significant, but even under that condition capital punishment and many other things could no longer be funded with public money. Perhaps this would be a good thing-but I am reasonable sure that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would be willing to accept this a general principle.

Perhaps the most controversial component of the bill is that health care workers who morally oppose abortion will have the legal right to refuse to perform abortions-even when doing so is medically necessary to prevent the death of the woman. Currently hospitals are legally required to perform abortions when doing so is medically necessary to saving the life of the woman.  Some Catholic hospitals have been breaking the existing law for years.

On the one hand, a strong case can be made for allowing health care workers to decline performing an abortion on moral grounds. After all, a law that compels people to perform what they regard as an immoral action (such as fighting in war or paying taxes to support a war or what they regard as an unjust system) would seem to be well worth both moral and legal scrutiny. This matter has, of course, been addressed in regards to civil disobedience and the question of what a person should do when his/her conscience conflicts with the laws of the state.

In the case of non-emergency procedures, I am certainly sympathetic to the view that health care workers with strong moral beliefs should not be forced to engage in what they regard as an immoral action (most likely murder). Likewise, I am sympathetic to people who refuse to fight in war or support the state on the grounds that they regard the killing  (or murder) of human beings as immoral.

On the other hand, a strong case can be made that professionals are obligated to perform their jobs even when doing so goes against their conscience. For example, a nurse who is opposed to drug use would not seem to have the right to refuse to treat a victim of a self-inflicted drug overdose of illegal drugs. As another example, a police officer who thinks that homosexuality is an abomination would not seem to have the right to refuse to protect a homosexual who is being beaten to death.

In the case of emergency procedures, a very strong case can be made that such procedures should be performed. On utilitarian grounds, performing such procedures would seem to be right. After all, the most likely result of not performing the procedure is that the woman and the fetus both die. The procedure would at least save the life of one person, which would presumably be a good action. To use an analogy, imagine that a child has been rigged with a terrorist bomb and is running at a woman. The bomb cannot be removed in time and will detonate in seconds. A soldier or police officer is nearby and can stop the child-but only by shooting her. The woman can, of course, scream to the soldier/officer that she would rather die with her child. However, it would not seem wicked of the soldier or officer to take the shot if the woman did not forbid it.

It can, of course, be argued that this is not a utilitarian matter but a matter of the action itself being right or wrong. If it is assumed that abortion is wrong because it is killing, it would seem to follow that not helping the woman would also be wrong-after all, this would cause her death.

At this point it is natural to bring up the stock distinction between killing and letting die. In the case of the woman, the medical care provider would be letting her die rather than killing the other being (which may or may not be a person). In general, our moral intuitions tend to indicate that killing is worse than letting die, which could be taken as a point in favor of allowing health care providers to let women die rather than perform an abortion. However, since the being will also die anyway (in most cases) it would seem that refusing to save the woman would (as noted above) merely double the number of deaths rather than do something that would be morally commendable. This could even be argued on the same moral basis as triage. In this case, the act could be seen not as killing the being, but saving the mother rather than allowing two patients to die. To use an analogy, if a mother and child were brought to a hospital and both were dying and the doctor knew that her choice was between saving the mother or letting both die while she worked to futilely save the child, then the right thing to do would seem to be to save the mother. Expending pointless effort on a child that could not be saved while letting the mother die would not be noble or good. Rather it would be a wrongful decision that would kill the mother.  As such, this provision is clearly immoral.

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Fetal Pain

Human fetus, age unknown

Image via Wikipedia

The state of Nebraska has added a (seemingly) new phrase to the abortion debate, namely “fetal pain.” The gist of the view is that abortions after twenty weeks should not be allowed on the grounds that the fetus might feel what is happening to it.

While it is not known exactly when a fetus can feel pain, the Journal of the American Medical Association asserts that it is unlikely that the fetus feels pain prior to twenty eight weeks. The question of when a fetus has sufficient neurological development that would allow it to experience pain would certainly seem to be an empirical matter. Of course, the situation can be made more complicated by bringing in metaphysical concerns about when the fetus has a mind that can actually experience pain and suffer from such pain (there might be an important distinction between feeling pain and suffering from pain).

Determining when the fetus can feel and suffer from such pain does seem important. After all, many moral arguments are based on the capacity of beings to experience pain. For example, stock arguments in the moral debate over the treatment of animals rest on the fact that many of the ways we treat animals (such as how we raise them as food) causes them pain and suffering.

If the pain and suffering of animals matters morally, then it would certainly seem that the pain and suffering of fetuses would also matter morally. In fact, many of the arguments for not harming or mistreating animals based on their capacity to feel pain could be modified slightly to serve as arguments against harming fetuses that can feel pain.

Of course, this means that objections raised against pain/suffering based arguments in the case of animals could often be modified for use against the pain/suffering based arguments regarding fetuses.

On a logically irrelevant note, this could mean that folks who are pro-choice but against animal suffering might find their own arguments against mistreating animals re-purposed to argue against abortions. Likewise, folks who are anti-abortion but argue for the moral acceptability of (mis)using animals might find their arguments for allowing animal suffering to be re-purposed and used against their anti-abortion views.

Getting back to the main discussion , it does seem that pain and suffering are morally relevant. Intuitively, this makes sense. To steal an approach from Hume, simply think of your own pain and suffering and see if you can regard these as good things. It is also easy enough to take advantage of numerous existing arguments for pain and suffering having negative moral value (Mill is the obvious choice here). Naturally, there are also good arguments against this, but it hardly seem foolish to consider that inflicting pain and suffering tends to be morally wrong.

If this is granted, then abortions that cause pain and suffering to the fetus would certainly seem to have a morally negative element well worth considering. However, this would hardly be a morally decisive point. After all, the mere fact that something causes pain and suffering does not automatically make it wrong or unacceptable. One reason for this is that pain and suffering are typically taken as having relative rather than absolute weight. In other words, pain and suffering on the part of one party is usually weighed against positive value or against the pain and suffering of another party. For example, when arguing about animal testing in the context of medicine, the pain of the animals is typically matched against the gain to be had from the medicine.

In the case of abortion, the pain and suffering of the fetus would be weighed against other factors, such as the pain and suffering of the woman. This is, of course, old moral ground that has been debated extensively. In many cases the suffering the woman (or girl) would undergo would far outweigh the pain and suffering of the fetus, thus allowing the abortion to occur. If someone argued that the fetus has an absolute right not to suffer or feel pain, then the obvious counter is to inquire why the same would not apply to the woman as well and why such a clash between absolutes should be settled in favor of the fetus. After all, the burden of proof would seem to rest on those who claim an unborn and unfinished being has a greater moral status than a person.

I suspect that the main result of the introduction of “fetal pain” into the legal battle will not be a significant change in the ethical debate. Rather, the main impact will be that a (seemingly) new rhetorical tool (or weapon, depending on your view) is now available.

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Health Care, Abortion and Moral Choice

One issue that has become part of the American health reform debate is that of abortion. Oversimplifying things a bit, some folks are very concerned that public money will be used to pay for abortions and they are fighting to prevent this.

It might be believed that the politicians who oppose using public money for abortion are acting on the basis of principle. After all, they claim to be taking this stance based on a moral opposition to abortion. Of course, the cynical might suspect that this stand is not such much a matter of principle as a matter of politics. However, let it be assumed that they are acting on the basis of principle. An important question is, of course, what principle is being used.

The obvious principle is that public money should not be used to fund things that are immoral. Alternatively, the principle could be that public money should not be used for what people disagree with.

The first option seems rather reasonable-after all, since immoral things should not be done, that it makes sense that public money should not be used to make such things possible. Of course, there is still the matter of whether abortion is immoral or not (the same would apply to all moral issues).

The second option also has some appeal. After all, people should have a say in how their money is being spent-this is a basic principle of democratic government. Also, an analogy could be presented by comparing this to a phone bill. If a get a phone bill that includes services I do not want and do not use, then I should not have to pay for those services. Likewise, the same should apply to tax money.

Of course, this principle has to be applied consistently: if people can insist that public money not be spent on abortion, then people can make the same insistence in regards to things that they oppose. For example, people who are morally against war can insist that no public funds be spent on wars. As another example, people who are opposed to using public money to pay for abstinence education could also insist that public money not be used in that manner. Of course, given that people are opposed to a wide variety of things on moral grounds, there would be very little left that public funds could be spent on. This would, of course, be something of a problem.

Of course, there is a way to address the problem of reconciling the right people have to choose and the need for public money to be used on things like defense, art, unemployment benefits, infrastructure and so on. That is to follow the decisions of the majority. Of course, this raises the concern that the majority might use its power to tyrannize the numerical minorities. However, allowing every numerical minority to tyrannize the majority based on their moral disagreement would probably be even worse.

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The Wrong Embryos

Like most people, I saw the story of the couple who had the wrong embryos implanted by their fertility clinic. Obviously, that was one heck of mistake and indicates that the clinic needs to reassess how it labels and tracks embryos. This does provide a rather extreme example of the sorts of easy to fix errors that can cause so much trouble.

What struck me the most about this story was the fact that the couple decided that the embryo would be brought to term and then given to his/her biological parents. When asked about this, the couple made it clear that their decision was based on their values.

Since I teach ethics, I find this very interesting indeed. Naturally, I also find it interesting as a person. It is, to say the least, morally commendable for the woman to go through this experience knowing that she will be giving up the child. As far as I know, she is not receiving any compensation from the other couple for this. Of course, the fertility clinic certainly owes her for the mistake they made.

Switching back to philosopher mode, I cannot help but compare this to the famous violinist analogy that has been used in the moral debate over abortion. While the cases are different, here is a case in which a woman has been implanted with a “non-related” embryo and is faced with the choice of keeping it or having an abortion. As noted above, she elected to act in what many would regard as a commendable way.

Of course, some might contend that she had no obligation to do this (even though it would be awfully nice to do so). After all, while she chose to be implanted, she did not chose to be implanted with another couple’s embryo. This would seem to provide adequate moral grounds for having an abortion. After all, to force her to bear the child of another would certainly seem to place an unreasonable burden on the woman. Or would it? Is anyone willing to argue that she was not just really nice to do this, but also morally obligated to do so?