I’ll stop promising posts I don’t deliver. This blog is getting terribly self-referential, and as I guess Godel, Escher, Bach says, that makes it a self-conscious and therefore intelligent thing, and so I should stop it.
Instead, speaking of conscious things, a quick bit about abortion, and I’m going to call out a different group than I normally call out this time. To start: my viewpoint is that abortion is totally okay until brain activity starts (something like 6 weeks, I dunno, look it up), and totally not okay after that.
Let me start by offering this: if something is a human, and you stop it from living, that’s murder, right? If it’s not a human, just some kinda proto-human (like a sperm or an egg, say), then you can do whatever you want with it, right? So the abortion debate is really about when a baby stops being a proto-human and becomes an actual human, right? Can we agree on this, and stop talking about “women’s freedoms” and stuff? If so, let me proceed with the the promised call-out:
Hey you liberals! You know, the ones who want to participate in the Big Gay Abortion Fiesta! How can you justify abortion after a certain point? For example, a dilation-and-extraction/partial-birth-abortion, whatever you want to call it. The baby is practically alive and doing fine; it just happens to be inside its mom’s womb instead of sitting in a cradle. Can’t most babies at 40 weeks survive on their own, if they weren’t in their mother’s womb? So a DAE/PBA is a way of killing a baby that just happened to be in the wrong place.
(I apologize for the harsh language; I understand that using words like “baby-killing” leads to an uncivilized argument. I think it’s the most concise way I can put it.)
So we need some guideline as to when a fetus becomes a human. I picked the brain-wave activity, because it’s consistent with our laws: if your brain waves stop, you’re legally dead, so when your brain waves start, you should be legally alive. If there’s something wrong with that (like it’s unmeasurable or something) let me know; otherwise, tell me why you’re pro-choice in a more general sense.
Hand me my preachin' hat, honey, I feel a sermon a-comin' on.
I’m a Hindu. I think that people shouldn’t kill animals. I think, in fact, that killing an animal is as bad as killing a person. Even if you then eat the animal. Even if someone else goes on to eat the animal.
But follow me here: I have lived my whole life in a hemisphere where people think that it’s okay to kill animals. In fact, for some reason, white people manage to incorporate killing animals into every aspect of their lives. Glue is made from dead horses. Glue, for Christ’s sake. And while I would love for everyone to stop killing stuff, my telling people to stop won’t actually stop them. I can ask people to just be a little more careful about where they keep food so that they won’t feel like they have to kill as many flies, but it’s much easier to just kill flies. They’re very small.
Here’s the thing: there’s a fundamental disagreement between me and the white people. White people think it’s okay and sometimes desireable to kill animals; I think that it’s not. So, hypothetically, if I had the power, would it be okay for me to make it illegal to eat meat? Because a large part of me would like to.
The problem with abortion is that while one side is arguing legality, t’other is arguing morality. Maybe the Good Lord doesn’t want us to kill embryos; maybe He doesn’t care. The point is that we don’t know. And as long as we don’t know, we can’t legislate morality. That’s the whole American thing. That’s what “separation of Church and State” actually means. We make laws for strictly legal reasons and let fat, ill-informed, overpaid, irreligious preachers worry about morality.
If you think abortion’s a bad idea – and, frankly, I do think it’s a bad idea, and if I were in a situation where it was an option, I would go to extreme lengths to avoid it – then the next time you get knocked up, don’t get an abortion. But you really don’t have the power to stop anyone else who gets knocked up from getting an abortion. And the next time you speak to the Good Lord, it’s probably a good idea to thank Him that you’ll never actually have to make that choice. That and maraschino cherries are the greatest gifts He’s ever given you and me.
If we’re talking D&E, what galls me is that this procedure is almost never performed unless it’s necessary for the health of the mother. And in the recent Supreme Court decision, they didn’t even include an exception for that. So what the Supreme Court essentially did is took a rarely-performed (yet, granted, gruesome, procedure) that nobody in their right minds would want to perform unless it was absolutely necessary, and painted it as if people were just going out and getting D&Es willy-nilly. And now, with this decision, they’ve managed to basically rewrite the legal precident regarding abortion.
Also, in regards to your larger point about abortion, I agree with you in part. To me, personally, I think abortion in the first trimester’s OK (but obviously, not good and should be avoided whenever possible), third trimester should be avoided unless the mom’s gonna die, and I don’t know enough about infant development to debate when in the second trimester to draw that line. That’s the problem. You have to draw the line somewhere and everybody’s gonna draw it somewhere different. When you try to legislate morality, that’s the slippery slope you find yourself on.
Both of these posts make the distinction between morality and legality, which in general is important to make, but, in regards to this argument, is irrelevant. Dan spends his initial post trying to distinguish at what point a baby becomes human. Wherever people decide this point is, it remains a fact that there *is* a point. This point, moreover, is not a moral distinction but an absolute and scientific one - while we might currently lack the metric which defines something’s “humanness,” it remains true that an entity either is, or is not, human in an objective sense. Therefore, the morality vs. legality argument does not apply because liberal states have clearly decided that it is expedient to legislate against murder; to kill a human being is murder regardless of his location, in utero or not.
In his post, Dan sets the metric at “brain wave activity.” This seems like a perfectly fine definition as it is in keeping with America’s end of life legislation. In a theoretical sense, however, conception is a very possible point where humanness starts. Allowing that there is even a small chance that this is the case, the decision about whether or not abortion should be legal comes down to an analysis of situations. Say there is a 10% chance that humanness begins at conception. With over 40 million abortions in America since Roe v. Wade, the expectation is that there were over 4 million preventable murders (obviously this is a mathematical oversimplification, there should be some measure of risk aversion and it is clearly morbid to talk about lives in these terms, but, nevertheless, the point seems relevant). Even with a smaller percentage, there is a distinct possibility that America and the rest of the liberal (not in the political sense) world are sanctioning mass murder. Considering the alternative, illegal abortion and the inconveniences and suffering that stems from it, it seems that it is certainly less repulsive than mass murder.
When I conceived of this argument a couple years ago, it convinced me that abortion should be illegal, but I must admit that now that there is a possibility that I could get someone pregnant, I am pro-choice for purely selfish reasons. In an argument like this one where there is no clear answer, I don’t feel all that bad taking the side that’s best for me personally.
Thanks, Erik! I don’t think the fact that you shouldn’t legislate morality comes in here. I mean, we already outlaw murder, and if the fetus is actually a human, then you’re killing a human and that’s murder (and therefore illegal for the reason that murder’s illegal).
That is an interesting point about what if they’re actually human at conception? Hmm. But then, when does a human stop being a human? When its heart stops, brain waves stop, stops moving, or decomposes down to the bones? If we legislate that, then we can legislate when it starts to be a human.
^^^ (I’m not entirely happy with my above argument. It’s kind of a cop out.)
Janet Jay -
To me, here’s the crux of the issue: is a zygote, which is literally one cell, the exact same thing as a human being, and should be legally protected as such? No, I don’t believe it is. However, on the other side of the issue, is a viable fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy a baby? I would say yes, if it can live outside its mother’s body. But that’s my own, personal definition. But again, since D&E is pretty much never performed electively, I’m not even going to discuss third trimester abortions. Morally, I am very conflicted about second trimester abortions. Legally, I am hesitant to change a damn thing.
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Roe v. Wade decided in 1972 that since a fetus is viable after the 2nd trimester, or 24/36 weeks, the state (eg PA) has an interest in *and ability to care for* the development of that citizen because it is viable outside of the womb, and may regulate abortions and abortifacients all it wants.
During the first trimester, the baby is not viable outside of the mother’s womb, and as she is the only one who can care for it and ensure its development, she has the sole ‘choice’ of whether to carry it to term.
etc etc exceptions for health problems.
So while you bring up a good point and a fair place to draw a line, the US law is already good in my opinion, which makes its argument in terms of government interest and ability to further develop the fetus/baby. That is my answer to your question to me, ‘how do I justify…?’
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Consider this: even if a child has some brain activity, at what point does it have more or less brain activity than a mouse or a pig? The human brain starts from nothing and must pass those milestones, and clearly eliminating consciousness at those levels is not currently a crime - and you argue from current crimes.
As for D&E, Janet is right - D&E is rare because most women have their abortions early-term, when it is safer and easier. Also, 6-7 weeks is plenty of time for most people to decide whether they want to keep a child.
Also, 3rd term abortions are illegal in many states and nationally, I think 82% of counties have no abortion providers, so people in states with legal late-term abortion may not even be able to get one by that point.
My last point for discussion is a catholic one: giving birth to your baby will kill you. *So what?* Don’t kill the baby - as a matter of fact, don’t kill anyone ever! If you have doubts, err on the side of not even maybe-kind of-sort of killing a potential-quasi-perhaps-person. Then give your money to the poor.
On the other hand, a doctor has a medical obligation (Hippocratic oath) to perform any procedures that will save the life and health of his patients. In this case, what is a doctor to do? Maybe the birth won’t kill the woman, but it is clear that complications would render her fertile, or wreck her in some other way.
It’d be worth asking a doctor.
Many people have noted that there’s a strange dynamic on ‘life issues’ between democrats and republicans. D’s are pro-choice, but anti-war and anti-death penalty, whereas R’s are pro-life but pro-war and pro-death penalty. Where’s the consistent life ethic?
The whole thing is explained eloquently by George Lakoff, but only Janet and I have read his book as far as I know, so his theory boils down to pretty much this:
The D style of governance can be described as a more motherly, nurturing style. D’s want to help out the runts and give second chances - D’s are also more likely to be determinists, and believe in a weaker form of ‘free will’ than R’s. Ergo, if you are poor or mean, it probably has to do with factors in your environment and roots as well as your choices. Therefore, you deserve some help from those who were lucky enough to succeed.
The R style of governance is a strict, fatherly style. R’s want to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. R’s believe in strong free will: you can do anything you set your mind to, and if you are poor or mean, it probably has to do with choices you made. Therefore, you deserve exactly what you have, and those who succeeded deserve exactly what they have.
Things might start to make more sense on the war and death penalty issues, but what about abortion?
South Dakota held their referendum on their total abortion ban that had no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rapes and incest (it did have a ‘life of the mother’ exception, but not a ‘health of the mother’ exception).
In a state where well over 50% of the voting population disapprove of abortion, the ban failed in 2006.
For R’s, if you want an abortion, it means you aren’t married - because married pregnant people will just have their kids. Ergo, people seeking abortions are irresponsible and are avoiding consequences, so don’t let them! (Some R’s really do want to save ‘every life’ and oppose stem cell research and war, but they are not a profile of mainstream pro-lifers)
But, if a woman is raped, she’s not being irresponsible! She verifiably does not deserve to have to bear that child if she doesn’t want to.
I’ve reached the end of my rant. I need to read a book and then go to bed soon. It’s been a pleasure reading through your blog and catching up with you a bit, Dan!
Oh - a quick note on brain wave activity as a means of legislating abortion:
Women menstruate once every 4 weeks, so it is possible that a woman would not even suspect that she is pregnant until the fetus is 4 weeks old.
Pregnancy tests are good enough to work the day that you miss your period, but sometimes they don’t work right, and believe me - many women buy two or three tests to be sure. So tack on 4 more days.
If abortions are only legal for the first 62 days after conception, and women don’t know they’ve conceived until 7-50 days, then their ability to have non-homicidal abortions will be very limited.
Clinics are not open 24/7, and working women will not be able to make it to them during business hours when they are open on short-notice.
Also, in many abortion-hostile areas, clinics are only open 1-2 days per month, days which are kept secret (except by appointment) so that protesters do not hassle the women.
Many abortion-hostile states have passed laws (even in the first trimester) requiring waiting-periods, so that a woman would have to show up on Monday and then wouldn’t be able to have a procedure until Thursday at the earliest, for example. Again, a serious hindrance for a working woman.
Women who seek early term abortions are also typically lower income with no male providers, so they are likely to have demanding work schedules and rely on public transportation.
Finally, like I said in my longer post, 82% of counties lack an abortion provider, so the nearest clinic may be hours away by car.
So, a window of 12-55 days, hell, let’s say 30, is suddenly much smaller than it initially seemed when we take into account the above factors.
Now, if it’s just about human life, then it doesn’t matter to you, and I give you credit for your solid principle. But I still think those are some interesting things worth putting out there. And if they do sway you at all, then maybe George Lakoff has you pinned, too!
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