Tag Archives: Pro-life

Pro-Life, Pro-Environment

Human fetus, age unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Abortion & Torture

For the past few years I have been caught between pro-choice arguments from the left and pro-torture arguments from the right. I had been able to keep them neatly compartmentalized until recently. Somehow, like flu viruses swapping genetic material, they became blended together. This monstrous hybrid enabled me to see the arguments in a new (and probably incorrect) way. Just as the flu “likes” to get around and meet new people, I thought that this idea might like to get out and perhaps make a few people ill.

On the face of it, torture and abortion would not seem to have much in common beyond the obvious: both involve people doing not so nice things to other people (or pre-people), both are very morally controversial, both have devoted supporters and detractors and so on. However, the two do have something very important in common: they both seem to be defended by the same basic moral principle. Since this might seem a bit absurd, I need to make my case for this.

One stock argument in defense of torture is utilitarian: torturing the “bad guys” will yield information that can prevent terrorist attacks. Naturally, torture is “not nice”, but the badness of the torture is outweighed by the harms it can prevent.

One stock argument for abortion is also utilitarian: aborting unwanted fetuses (or products of conception, if you prefer) will result in a better life for the woman than going through with the pregnancy. Naturally, abortion is “not nice”, but the badness of the killing is outweighed by the harms it prevents to the life of the woman.

Abstracting a bit, the common principle is this: Doing something not nice to another person (or pre-person) is morally acceptable, provided that the badness of the action is outweighed by the harms it prevents.

Given this principle, many of those who support abortion and those who support torture share a common ground: they both accept that we can do not nice things to others, provided that it gets the desired results. Interestingly, folks who defend torture tend to be anti-abortion and those who defend abortion tend to be anti-torture. Of course, there are folks who are against both and some who are for both.

I suspect that at this point many readers are thinking: “hey, there are important moral differences between the two!” That would be a correct thought, so I turn now to considering the breaking of the analogy between the two. This is done by examining those important moral differences.

One obvious difference is the moral status of the objects of torture and abortion. In the sort of torture being defended, the target is supposed to be  bad and dangerous people. That is, people who are involved with blowing up civilians with car bombs, with crashing passenger jets into buildings, and with bombing subways and trains.  While this can be debated, these sorts of people do seem to be rather bad. In abortion, the target is clearly an innocent being whose only actions have been limited to growing and perhaps some movement.

Intuitively, harming the innocent seems to be worse than harming the bad. To support this, consider the arguments given for punishment: most tend to hinge on the fact that misdeeds warrant harm. As such, torture would seem to be morally superior to abortion.

Another obvious difference is another sort of moral status, that of being a person. Terrorists, whatever they might have done or planned to do, are clearly people. In contrast, there are many arguments that the targets of abortion are not people. Even if it is granted that the targets of abortion are people, they are clearly lacking in many ways relative to adult terrorists. For example, a terrorist can understand his situation, suffer pain and humiliation, and anticipate that more suffering will be inflicted upon him. In contrast, the target of abortion lacks these capacities or has them at a reduced level. If the suffering of the target is relevant to the morality of an action, then torture would seem to be worse.

A third obvious difference is that torture is not intended to kill the target while abortion is. Intuitively, killing seems to worse than hurting someone-even if the pain is severe. In any case, people seem to regard death as worse-if you give someone a choice between pain and death, people will tend to chose pain. Of course, there are exceptions-especially when the pain is terrible and ongoing. Since torture only  hurts and abortion kills, abortion would seem to be worse.

A fourth obvious difference is the matter of relationship. In the case of abortion, the person making the decision (in most cases) has a special relation with the target-the target is within her body and (potentially) her child. No such relation exists in the case of torture (although someone could torture a relative). This distinction could be used to argue that abortion is acceptable and torture is not. Interestingly, women who support abortion often use some variant of the phrase “keep your hands off my body.” As one might imagine, a torture target could also say that with great feeling. Presumably the targets of abortion would say the same thing-if they could talk.

Of course, one might wonder why this special relationship can be used to justify abortion. One stock argument is that it is the woman who is primarily affected by the pregnancy and this (in part) gives her the right. Of course, the same sort of reasoning could be used in the case of torture. If a woman has the right to an abortion so as to prevent harm to her life (or way of life), then the potential victims of terrorists would also seem to have a comparable right to have terrorists tortured to prevent harm to their lives (or ways of life). If this is correct, then abortion and torture would both be acceptable (or both bad).

This can be countered by insisting that woman has a special right that is somehow grounded in the fact that it is her body and that there is nothing analogous to this in the case of torture. If so, abortion would be justified by that special relationship between the woman and the target of abortion. Obviously, this justification could not be used in the case of torture.