Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Dialogue About Abortion: Part IV

(This is a dialogue between myself and a long-time poster regarding abortion. Read Part I here, Part II and Part III)

From: NewsCat
To: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 10:32 AM

So is the dynamic between us about abortion always going to be me saying "think of the women!" and you responding "think of the children!" How do we get past that then? I keep asking "what are we before we are born?" It is a religious question. I know evangelicals who, as a matter of proselytizing say things like "Well why not convert just in case (we're right)." I feel like you make the same argument in a sense. Don't allow abortions just in case....but just in case what? What happens to them if they are aborted? They don't become people but what do they become? They become nothing. But what were they before? You say they can't object (which is a reason not to abort) but even adults can't remember what life was like in the womb. Most of us can't remember anything before our second birthdays. We seem to develop consciousness slowly. Many things are alive and can react to stimulus but aren't conscious.

If you feel that someone is a "person" mere moments after conception or three months into a pregnancy or not until viability, then that seems like ultimately it always comes down to where to YOU believe life begins. I know were you, Jim in Cleveland, thinks, but why should I, Rachel, have to follow your *beliefs* about it? Why can't I follow my own and go to hell or heaven or nothingness based on the moral choices I make. Why can't I decide where life begins if I'm the one who's pregnant and not you? At least up until the point of birth or at minimum, when the fetus I'm carrying can survive outside my womb? When it can exist separate from me?

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 4:36 PM

I do not think it is fully a religious question, but a moral one, to be sure. I believe adultery is wrong, but I do not propose that we make it illegal. I think you would agree that a Christian view of God would not approve of stealing--yet it is not purely a religious issue to make it illegal.

You point out that we, as humans, do not remember our pre-natal life. Fine. So it is okay to end the life PRIOR to that point in which memory begins? In other words, if the life can be taken at a certain point in the womb, why not up to two years after? Further, if I am stuck taking care of my elderly granny, and she is starting to forget what she had for breakfast, why would it be wrong to free up myself for school or a better financial picture by dropping some strychnine into her oatmeal? She won't know the difference, and I will not have to continue my unfair burden of having to care for her. Freedom of choice.

As for the relativist argument that what we individually believe is what makes something right or wrong: Let me borrow from pro-life philosopher Peter Kreeft.

Let us say you are driving a car on a dark rainy night and see a coat lying in the street. The coat is bunched up to the point it looks like a person is under there. Does it matter if the person believes or does not believe it is a person? If the driver is sure there is a person under there (maybe seeing an arm), and runs over the coat, it is murder, plain and simple. In terms of abortion, this is rare. Society tells us (incorrectly, I would argue) that we don't know if it is or isn't a person.

But doesn't the driver have a responsibility to avoid the coat? Does it matter if he believes there is or isn't a person under there? If the driver thinks there is no person under the coat, but still drives over it, and there was a person, then that is manslaughter.

Does it matter to the person under the coat whether the driver believed he was there or not, if in fact he was there?

I would say the only way you can say the driver runs over that coat, and is innocent, is if he KNOWS there is no person under that coat. You may argue you know that a zygote is not a person, that at some arbitrary point -- perhaps the magical end to the first trimester, perhaps viability outside the womb, perhaps birth, perhaps even independence after birth--it becomes a person, the way you and I are persons, the way Granny who can't remember her own name is a person. But I have never heard a persuasive pro-abortion position that defines when that arbitrary point is. I have never heard the NARAL side prove there is no person under the coat.

Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Friday, October 26, 5:36 PM

Well I think I've been telling you that I think that point where someone becomes a person is viability. When you can exist as a separate entity from your mother. If you are asking me for a bright line, between fetus and personhood, that's where I would put it. But I don't think it's immoral to have an abortion any more than I think all adultery is immoral. It may be a crappy thing to cheat on someone but is it immoral? I wouldn't go as far as to call it immoral. (So do you also believe all sex outside of wedlock is immoral? Then the issue is we define morals entirely differently).

One thing I can never understand is the argument that "abortion cheapens life?" Cheapens more than it is currently is held? How does a woman making an individual decision to have an abortion cheapen life for everyone else in the world? In fact doesn't the decision not to bring in unwanted children actually improve the state of the world?

The world cheapens human life and frankly I feel like conservatives cheapen human life. Every day people die in Iraq. Every day the federal government deports poor people. Every day there are American policies written so the rich get richer and less poor children get health insurance. I feel like we've clashed on things like immigration and maybe issues like social policies like welfare. (And if I'm wrong I apologize). But if you can't treat adult poor Mexican immigrants like human beings why should we treat American fetuses?

From: Jim in Cleveland
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 9:06 AM

As Keanu Reeves might argue: Whoa! You sure opened several cans of worms there. I deduce from your latest missive that abortion is right because one, adultery is morally right, and two, because conservatives oppose expanding the S-CHIP.

First, I must point out that I never used the term "cheapens life," the straw man you attempt to knock down by citing what you deem to be evil conservative viewpoints. I think you are trying to change the subject a little when you cite immigration, health insurance, and Iraq. A neat trick, to be sure, but not one I am going to fall for. We can go toe to toe on those topics some other time. Suffice it to say that I think arguments can be made to support conservative views on those topics that affirm life.

But to address your concerns: Is abortion immoral?

Morality is absolute. You and I can disagree on what that absolute is, but because you are a woman and I am a man doesn't make something more right or wrong. Racial slurs are wrong uttered by a white man or a black woman. There is or is not a God. It doesn't matter if you are an evangelical Christian or an atheist -- the fact is the fact.

Second, where is the line between personhood and tissue? You say, "When you can exist as a separate entity from your mother." First, that would preclude late-term abortions, or you would at least have to concede that late-term abortions are of persons, not just tissue. But beyond that, I am not certain of the reasoning. Certainly science has made a baby viable without the womb much earlier than 10, 20, 100 years ago. As science progresses, there will come a day when, by your definition, all abortions will be of persons, not tissue.

But why that arbitrary bright line? Is a baby able to live without care? Of course not--a parent who ignores her baby's basic needs would be charged with murder. Doesn't a zygote contain all the necessary DNA of a human being? I would submit that your bright line is a very fuzzy one.


Anonymous said...

I had a thought about the coat argument: if a couple uses birth control, then they are doing everything they can to avoid the coat in the street. If the birth control fails, and that couple is not ready to have children, and they abort, wouldn't that be like they swerved to avoid the coat and then ran over another coat that they hadn't seen, making any killing accidental manslaughter?

I agree with Jim that you can't argue that abortion is ok just because the world is so shitty. Perhaps a better argument would be that making abortion illegal would increase the shittiness of the world by causing the presence of more children that cannot be cared for, and causing the deaths of young women who choose the back-alley abortion. In this case, you are still weighing the value of the lives of those who are already present against the value of the lives that might have been, but in a less abstract way. Although you will never agree, Jim, that it is okay to kill anything at all, would you agree that it is better to kill ten unborn babies who have no comprehension of the life they are missing out on than to allow those ten babies to live a life of malnutrition and abuse, where three of them die before the age of five, two of them get sold into slavery, and three others see a sibling die of malnutrition? (Of course, all those numbers are made up on the spot, but I hope you see my point.)

As far as when a fetus becomes a person, I would say that until it is born, it is simply the property of the mother. If she wants to throw it away, fine. If she wants to keep it, but someone kicks her in the stomach and causes a miscarriage, even if the fetus is not viable yet, she could prosecute that person for assault on her, and for stealing her property. Once it is born, it becomes a person with all of the rights of any other human being, which is why it's wrong to kill a giggling, pooping, breathing baby, but not a piece of tissue that exists in theory and imagination only. Of course, I have to admit that I don't believe in the existence of God or a soul, so it is easier for me to see a fetus as not being a person. It's more like a placeholder for a future child one would like to have. If one doesn't want to have a child, than a fetus is a parasite or a tumor.

And to go off topic, why is it illegal to sell my kidney? That is also my property. But perhaps I should get back to work...


Anonymous said...

The science belies your position that the pre-born baby is nothing but a piece of tissue. Even if you are an atheist, you have to concede that if a baby is taken out of the womb a day early, it can live. Same with two days early, a week, a month early. I think like all arguments on when viability occurs, you are assigning an arbitrary point in time.

Is it better to kill ten fetuses or watch ten children have bad things happen to them? If you could tell me for certain that one fetus would grow up to die of malnutrition, I would say it may be better for the person that he not experience the pain. I am not saying playing God is right in that case, though. Also, more importantly, I would say I would rather a baby bring joy to a mother than to have her experience guilt for killing it before it is born.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would probably live if you removed it a month early. As you said, advances in science are moving the line of viability ever earlier. So then does that mean if it can live in an incubator, with breathing and feeding tubes, it is viable? If we build an artificial womb, and can incubate a fetus outside the mother, is it viable at conception? If we can fuse another cell to an egg to create a viable fetus, will you get angry at me for ovulating without getting pregnant? Where do we draw the line? That's why I picked birth, not theoretical viability.

Of course, when dealing with potential futures, there is no certainty, only probability. If you can compare a person's situation to the situations of similar people, and extrapolate from those, then you could guess, given enough data, the chances of a child making it to adulthood. If they never make it to adulthood to become a productive member of society, then they are a drain on resources. There's too many people in the world already. Why add more?

Anonymous said...

Well, if there are too many people in the world, why not get rid of some of the ones that are unproductive to society?

As to your viability/birth point, why isn't it a person at conception? There are all the necessary genes to make up the person--before the egg is fertilyed, there is not the complete DNA. IF you think up to birth is not a person, take a look at some of the pictures of pre-born babies, or aborted babies.

Jim in Cleveland

Anonymous said...

You are really forcing me to struggle to define my feelings on this. It's a good thing, but my head hurts... At what point does a fetus or a baby become a person? Why is it not okay to bump off granny, who is a pain in the ass? Perhaps it is the point when someone else cares about them, and not in the abstract way of "I love all life"? If a mother doesn't love and want her fetus, then is it a person we need to care about? Just because it has all the DNA to later become a viable person, why does it matter whether it actually lives or not? What makes it so sacred? I understand the stages of fetal development, but that doesn't make me care about the unborn baby.

If I were a crotchety old woman who was unable to feed myself, and had no friends or family left who cared about me, would it be so sad if I took a few pills and went to sleep forever? Who would miss me? Life is only defined by the other people you share it with, and if no one is aware you are alive, and doesn't know you died, then, in the grand scheme of things, who cares?

Sure, encourage women to put their unborn up for adoption. Give them all of the access to and education about birth control that you possibly can. But don't force them to be a human incubator if they truly don't want that.

I wish I had more time for this, but this week has been heck.