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Adoption of Pro-Choice Views:

I know people who have always been pro-life or pro-choice and haven't changed their positions. I understand their logic there. I also know a lot of people who have gone from being pro-choice to pro-life, often prompted by having a child or a religious experience that causes them to come to believe that a fetus is essentially a child. I can understand the logic there too.

But I've never met (or at least talked to) anyone who has gone from being pro-life to pro-choice. I am sure there are people who have done so (I'm not including politicians who have done so for political expediency). If there are any readers out there who have made this migration (there must be), I'd be interested in hearing how that transition came about. In particular, what arguments did you find persuasive in changing your view on the morality of the issue?

Interestingly, when I search on Google, I find numerous pages on "How I became pro-life" and very little on "How I became pro-choice."

Although this is the blogosphere, I'm looking for serious introspection here, as I'm trying to understand how thoughtful and morally-serious people think about this question.

Observer:
I am sure many, if not most, Christians who become atheists switch their position from pro-life to pro-choice.
10.3.2008 3:16pm
Mad Jurist (mail):
I did. I'll describe the transition; I don't mean to sound condescending to pro-life readers, but I probably will anyway. When I was a freshman in college, I was pretty staunchly pro-life, believing abortion should only be legal to preserve the life of the mother or in cases of rape. My argument was essentially that we didn't know when life began, so, because life is so important, we should be as cautious as possible.

I'm not sure exactly when I became pro-choice, but as I studied more philosophy, I became more impressed by the notion of epistemic humility. And so I came to believe that in areas where we cannot be sure of where the truth lies, and abortion is almost certainly one of these areas, we should not force ethical decisions on people. In the large majority of cases, abortion is a very difficult choice for a woman to make. I suspect she is in the best position, epistemically, to make that choice.

I think it's also connected to a conversation I had once with Alasdair MacIntyre. I was discussing some religious topic with a friend, and he came in the room and suggested that one need not have an opinion on everything. This fit well with my notion of epistemic humility; the idea that one must have an opinion on everything is a form of epistemic hubris. Since abortion does not affect me, nor will I ever be in a position to have one, it isn't really something I need to have an opinion of.
10.3.2008 3:19pm
BerkeleyBeetle:
I started pro-life on account of "Hey, killing is wrong!" I later became pro-choice not because I ceased to believe that abortion was killing, but because if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported. I suppose, strictly speaking, this is pro-choice with the caveat that the fetus is told to come out with its hands up, first.
10.3.2008 3:23pm
Bobby G (mail):
I used to be pro-life--I used to believe that a human fetus had the same right (from conception) against being destroyed as did a fully rational, adult human. I believed this because I thought it impossible for there to be a middle ground between the position: "people have a right against being killed because they're human beings" and "people have a right against being killed because they're rational". I thought the latter position unacceptable, because it would permit the wanton destruction of small infants, the severely mentally handicapped, and any animal. I thought, in order to avoid this position, I had to maintain the first alternative--that it is your species membership in the human species that is the source of all of your rights, including of course the right against being killed.

Once it became clear to me that there could be a middle ground--namely, that there could be degrees of moral worth that merit different degrees of protection from harm--the possibility opened that one could be a pro-choicer without opening the floodgates to Peter Singer-style conclusions.

I wouldn't call myself an enthusiastic pro-choicer--once the fetus gets into the fourth month, I begin to have grave reservations about the moral permissibility of killing it--but I doubt I'm a pro-lifer either, as I can't see killing a blastocyst as being in the same "moral league" as killing, say, a 20-year old fully rational adult.
10.3.2008 3:23pm
2L_Law_Student (mail) (www):
I'm a pretty devote Catholic, but I gained a lot of perspective on this issue working on a moot court brief this past week. As a result, I'd say I'm skeptically Pro-Choice now, at least for a woman early in the pregnancy.

What did it for me was understanding that this right was inherently linked to wider fundamental liberties that are essential to independent action. Also, the same principle also convinced me that gays should be allowed to publicly serve in the military too (the topic of the brief).
10.3.2008 3:25pm
Norman Bates (mail):

Since abortion does not affect me, nor will I ever be in a position to have one, it isn't really something I need to have an opinion of.

Does that mean that since I am not Jewish nor am I ever likely to work in an extermination camp, it would be epistemic hubris on my part to make a moral judgment regarding the Holocaust?
10.3.2008 3:28pm
LN (mail):
I'm an atheist who was raised Christian. I didn't have a very strong opinion back when I was in high school, but I was basically pro-life, on simplicity grounds (murder is wrong, don't have sex if you don't want to face a dilemma, etc). As my entire worldview has shifted, I have also become very very strongly pro-choice.
10.3.2008 3:28pm
ShelbyC:

if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported


Even though, in most cases, the mother causes the fetus to become so attached for her own recreation, and the fetus has no choice in the matter? Funny logic.
10.3.2008 3:30pm
PLR:
The pro-life and pro-chioice positions are not two sides of one coin. The pro-life position is based on morality and not social policy; as a social policy the position is untenable. The pro-choice position is based on social policy and not morality; from a moral standpoint the conflict between host and fetus is arguably a toss-up.

So as Observer suggested, if your overall moral code changes so that previously non-negotiable issues can now be traded off, you may "migrate."

Off topic, I also think it's reasonable to believe there are more than a few phonies in the pro-life movement, based on the abortion rates for teenagers.
10.3.2008 3:30pm
A Law Dawg:
What did it for me was understanding that this right was inherently linked to wider fundamental liberties that are essential to independent action.


Assuming that the fundamental liberty you describe is that of privacy, where then do you draw the line between a right to privacy and the right to not be injured by somebody?

Did your view on the human nature of the fetus change when you accepted the framing of the issue on privacy grounds?
10.3.2008 3:34pm
A Law Dawg:
The pro-life position is based on morality and not social policy; as a social policy the position is untenable.


Untenable in what sense?
10.3.2008 3:36pm
Pragmatist:
I was pro-life until I realized that my position had the effect of encouraging the birth of more people I disagree with. Now I encourage them to use any type of birth control available whether it's abortion, euthanasia, or murder.
10.3.2008 3:41pm
Carl Hostetter (mail):
"What did it for me was understanding that this right was inherently linked to wider fundamental liberties that are essential to independent action."

But so is the right to life. In fact, without life, no other rights can exist at all. So why then is it right to summarily, deny an unborn child the right to life, when doing so also summarily denies him/her every other right; but wrong to prohibit abortion, on the theory that the right to abortion is linked to other rights? Shouldn't your own reasoning actually preclude abortion?
10.3.2008 3:42pm
Angus:
I think the discrepancy in what you read in terms of conversions is normal. The "pro-life" converts feel the need to confess and proselytize, the "pro-choice" converts do not.

For pro-lifers, it is the ultimate apocalyptic issue of human existence. For most pro-choice people, on the other hand, it ranks pretty low as a priority.
10.3.2008 3:42pm
TwoElle (mail):
This may not be exactly what you are looking for, as I still basically identify as pro-life, but my views on abortion have definitely softened. I have strong moral views about abortion, but I have come to believe that a hardline legal rule about abortion is unworkable.

Personally, I believe that abortion is morally wrong. I do not know whether an is the moral equivalent of an infant, but I do believe that it is unique human life that is worth of respect and cannot ethically be destroyed. Once a fetus is late term and viable, I have no problem using the label "baby" to describe it.

I have shifted, however, on my views of legal rights of unborn children/fetuses. If a fetus has the same rights as a born child, we could see state interference in women's health far beyond mere regulation of abortion. Are women who fail to seek pre-natal care guilty of child abuse? How about women who seek non-emergency medical treatment that may endanger the health of the fetus? If life truly begins at conception, do we plan to make IUDs and the shot illegal because they prevent implantation? I think that most hardline pro-lifers, while they may find these scenarios morally problematic, wouldn't truly want to see government regulation of all of these areas.

I still think that a viable fetus has the right not to be killed. (Since many states, including California, allow double murder prosecutions for the murder of pregnant women, I don't think this idea is all that crazy.) But I no longer think it is workable to give fetuses the same legal status as children. This leaves us in a complicated line-drawing situation, but given the risks of illegal abortion and troubling concerns about women's bodily autonomy, I think legal abortion of non-viable fetuses may be a necessary evil.
10.3.2008 3:42pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
I started pro-life on account of "Hey, killing is wrong!" I later became pro-choice not because I ceased to believe that abortion was killing, but because if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported. I suppose, strictly speaking, this is pro-choice with the caveat that the fetus is told to come out with its hands up, first.


The flaw in this argument is that the fetus did not ask to be conceived; rather, it was brought into being by the willful acts of others. It's one thing to say "come out with your hands up or I'll shoot you" if someone has snuck into your basement. It's quite another thing to say "come out with your hands up or I'll shoot you" when you have chained them to your basement wall, yourself.
10.3.2008 3:42pm
PLR:
Untenable in what sense?

There are no positive social effects from the pro-life position, except in rare (and probably theoretical) cases where a population is rapidly dwindling.

A fetus is not a social asset. We can make more.
10.3.2008 3:43pm
Angus:
Untenable in what sense?
Untenable in that the central argument is: "My religion says this is wrong, therefore I must force everyone to obey my religion." In short, the only defense for pro-lifers is an appeal to religious authority.
10.3.2008 3:45pm
Nobody Special:
Evolution of my thought on abortion:

1) Until mid-high school: Huh?
2) Then until mid-college: than goodness I wasn't aborted.
3) Then until now: this issue is insanely politicized.

Throughout 2 and 3, the pragmatist in would say that abortion should be legal in the first trimester, illegal in the last trimester, and, well, it beats me otherwise.
10.3.2008 3:48pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Untenable in what sense?

There are no positive social effects from the pro-life position, except in rare (and probably theoretical) cases where a population is rapidly dwindling.

A fetus is not a social asset. We can make more.


Can you define "social asset" in a way which excludes fetuses but includes three-year-olds? If not, are you arguing that it's OK to murder anyone who isn't economically productive?
10.3.2008 3:49pm
ofidiofile:
my experience mirrors BobbyG's. i was raised evangelical (protestant) in southern maryland.

ShelbyC: i find that argument unconvincing too, and for similar reasons.
10.3.2008 3:51pm
PaulK:
"I think it's also connected to a conversation I had once with Alasdair MacIntyre"

Something tells me this wasn't the result Dr. MacIntyre was intending.
10.3.2008 3:52pm
jamesk (mail):
There is also the category of pro-life partisans who have or procure abortions without finding it necessary to change their positions.

A friend of mine ran the Planned Parenthood clinic in a smallish college town, and repeatedly saw women she knew from anti-abortion activities bringing their daughters in for the procedure. Next day, back to the picket line.

I guess these are not the thoughtful folks you are looking for though.
10.3.2008 3:52pm
The Glib Answer:
How do people go from being pro-life to pro-choice?

Easy: their teenage daughter gets pregnant.
10.3.2008 3:53pm
Dave N (mail):
How do people go from being pro-life to pro-choice?

Easy: their teenage daughter gets pregnant.
Except for Sarah Palin?
10.3.2008 3:57pm
Wallace:

In short, the only defense for pro-lifers is an appeal to religious authority.


Then why are there pro-life atheists?
10.3.2008 4:00pm
A Law Dawg:
In short, the only defense for pro-lifers is an appeal to religious authority.


Please indicate what aspect of the pro-life position is incompatible with atheism.
10.3.2008 4:02pm
Pete Guither (mail) (www):
For me, it was a matter of deciding that the state was the wrong place for the discussion of this moral issue. I am pro-life, in that I am morally against abortion. However, I am pro-choice, in that I am opposed to government intervention in that decision.

It's easy for me to support activities designed (through education, birth control, preaching, whatever) to reduce abortion. That's a positive moral choice, and I can encourage an individual in this case to make the moral choice.

However, to put it in the government's hands gets much trickier, given the potential legal competing interests of the mother and the fetus. It is wrong for the government to kill, certainly, but that's not what this is usually about. It's about whether the government steps in and overrides the completely symbiotic relationship of mother and fetus through criminal sanctions. Then the government is forced into deciding whether the mother can be legally designated an incubator and when. For moral purposes, I consider the fetus and the mother distinct (although I couldn't tell you at what point that happens), but for governmental authority purposes, I consider the mother to be controlling.

So my pro-choice views came about because I didn't want government involved, not because I no longer had moral views about abortion.
10.3.2008 4:02pm
Dave N (mail):
Angus,

I am quite liberal theologically. My denomination has adopted a Pro-Choice position on abortion. Me? I consider myself mildly (not radically) Pro-Life. I take that position because I believe that once a fetus has obtained certain attributes of personhood (measurable brain activity is certainly one such attribute), it deserves protection.

Interestingly my wife, who worked in an abortion clinic many years ago, considers herself Pro-Choice. Yet when we discuss the actual issues surrounding abortion, as opposed to the "Pro-Life" "Pro-Choice" labels, we are pretty much in agreement when it comes to abortion.
10.3.2008 4:03pm
Mike Keenan:
Because of an intense personal experience, I made this change.
10.3.2008 4:11pm
Malvolio:
Please indicate what aspect of the pro-life position is incompatible with atheism.
No, please don't. Some positions are so flagrantly foolish I don't even want to hear them defended. 9/11 conspiracy theories for example. And now, the supposition that opposition to abortion can only come from theology.
10.3.2008 4:16pm
Yankev (mail):

The pro-choice position is based on social policy and not morality; from a moral standpoint the conflict between host and fetus is arguably a toss-up.
It's much less of a toss-up when you consider it as the conflict between a mother and the unborn child that she is carrying.
10.3.2008 4:28pm
PLR:
Can you define "social asset" in a way which excludes fetuses but includes three-year-olds?

Three year old human beings and the slothful have no relevance whatsoever to the issue of abortion.
10.3.2008 4:28pm
Oren:

No, please don't.

Seconded. This thread is the most informative and insightful abortion thread I can recall on VC. I hope that it stays that way.
10.3.2008 4:28pm
The Glib Answer:

"How do people go from being pro-life to pro-choice?

Easy: their teenage daughter gets pregnant."

Except for Sarah Palin?


Glib Answer #2: If you believe the party line, it was all her daughter's decision, and she merely supported her.

But more seriously, of course many unwanted pregnancies occur that do not the most-affected persons to change their opposition to opportion. But many also do. Whether this is a reflection of human beings' impressive capacity for moral flexibity when personally convenient, or whether it is because of sudden or deeper insight into the ambiguities and shades of grey of a trying situation, is an argument for another day.
10.3.2008 4:31pm
Nathan_M (mail):

Gabriel McCall: The flaw in this argument is that the fetus did not ask to be conceived; rather, it was brought into being by the willful acts of others. It's one thing to say "come out with your hands up or I'll shoot you" if someone has snuck into your basement. It's quite another thing to say "come out with your hands up or I'll shoot you" when you have chained them to your basement wall, yourself.

I came around to a pro-choice view for similar reasons to TwoElle, and I agree with her that "I do not know whether a [foetus] is the moral equivalent of an infant, but I do believe that it is unique human life that is worth of respect" (although I am much more strongly pro-choice, and I don't believe abortion is morally wrong), so I'll try to answer this objection.

I believe that even if a woman does purposefully get pregnant she still has the right, as every human being has, to decide for herself what will happen to her body, even if that means changing her mind. Even if it was necessary to preserve my life I don't think I ought to have the right to force another person to undergo a pregnancy, or even something less physically invasive such as, say, donating me a kidney.

I don't think a foetus has any unique claim over the woman who is carrying it that gives the foetus a right to force her to undergo a pregnancy if she does not want to.

To use your basement analogy, I don't think the person chained in the basement has the right to demand to stay there for nine months. I think the woman has the right to kick him out, regardless of how he got there.
10.3.2008 4:31pm
roy (mail) (www):
I made this change, after switching from Christianity to atheism and from Republican-style conservatism to libertarianism. I used to think that what I thought was right -- God, flag waving, not having abortions, and so on -- was so obviously right that it made sense to force people into it. Not necessarily by violence, but a fine or short jail sentence seemed OK.

Later I realized A) figuring out what's right is a lot more complicated than that, and B) fines and jail are backed up by violence. I still don't think all the categories of abortion that are legal now are actually OK, but I'm not so convinced of which sorts are wrong as to justify making them illegal.
10.3.2008 4:33pm
Angus:
It is in fact true. Even so-called atheists who oppose abortion end up adopting the "human life begins at conception" position. The only support for that is religious, since science cannot prove when human life begins. They can build a secular sheen to it, but they start from a religious assumption.

Dave N, I don't consider people who support limits on abortion to be pro-life. Only those who oppose abortion, period.
10.3.2008 4:34pm
A.C.:
I was raised Catholic and was strongly anti-abortion through college and beyond. When I was a young adult, however, I had a friend who had to get herself out of an abusive relationship with a man. While she was planning her escape, she had a pregnancy scare. It was a false alarm, fortunately, and everything ended up all right in the end. But talking to her made me think more about when abortion might be necessary.

I gradually came around to the idea that early, first-trimester abortion should be legal and readily available in true emergency situations. Threats to the mother's life, threats of extreme health complications, and the need to detach from a violent situation all seem like valid reasons to have an abortion early in pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, the situation seems murkier to me. In the final months of pregnancy, I would only consider abortion appropriate if there was a fairly high probability of the mother's death or permanent disability if she gave birth (whether she kept the baby or gave it up afterwards).

I'm still opposed to elective abortion and to the notion that abortion rights are key to a number of other rights that women consider important. This isn't the 50s. There are lots of birth control choices, single parenthood is not stigmatized the way it once was, and women have a lot more career and social options than at any time in the past. And it was a big mistake for women to ever aspire to the same kind of no-strings recreational sex lives that the more irresponsible sort of men have traditionally pursued. Abortion should not be a part of how most women in ordinary circumstances balance reproduction and other aspirations. It's a drastic and ultimately tragic solution, suitable only for drastic and tragic situations.

Now, as to the practical implementation of all this, I realize that allowing abortion for drastic situations will most likely result in some purely elective abortions. We should try to discourage this, not necessarily by legal prohibition. Rather, I think we should make it easier to prevent unplanned pregnancies, and easier to continue with education/career if one occurs. A lot of this is already happening, of course, but I suppose there is always room to improve. There may be better, more reliable methods of birth control still to be discovered, for example.
10.3.2008 4:35pm
PLR:

The pro-choice position is based on social policy and not morality; from a moral standpoint the conflict between host and fetus is arguably a toss-up.

It's much less of a toss-up when you consider it as the conflict between a mother and the unborn child that she is carrying.


I don't see how substituting some nouns for other nouns has any effect at all.
10.3.2008 4:36pm
Angus:
Out of my respect for Oren, I'll cease posting in this thread. If you don't have anything nice to say about your opponents, sometimes it is better to stop...
10.3.2008 4:37pm
guest (mail):
You'll find plenty of "I was pro-life but I'm glad I had the abortion" stories on imnotsorry.net, but I hardly think these are the conversion stories you're looking for.

For the record, I've mostly been pro-choice (legal but rare, as if that actually ever happens) but realize there are both moral dimensions and societal interests, particularly in protecting late-term fetuses. Haven't sorted those ideas out yet.
10.3.2008 4:41pm
Maistre (mail):
I have gone from strongly pro-life to moderately pro-choice in recent years. I suppose there are two arguments that I found persuasive.

First, on the ontological question of whether a zygote is a human being, I am persuaded that there is in fact no "magic moment" when human being-ness occurs. Conception is a chemical process that takes time. This undermines one of the supposed virtues of the pro-life position, namely, its clarity.

Second, I am persuaded that the question of what rights vest at what particular time is quite separate from the question of when a human being comes into existence. Even the strongest pro-lifers understand this: just because the zygote is a human being, for example, doesn't mean that it has a right to, say, parental support such that the parents have a duty to take *affirmative* steps to preserve the life of the zygote (similar to their duty to take affirmative steps to preserve the life of a minor child). If that's the case, then it's unclear when the *particular* right not to be intentionally killed begins to vest.

More broadly, I am persuaded by science writers like Steven Pinker that our folk intuitions -- which demand bright line rules -- are poorly equipped the messier biological realities that scientists are confronting us with. Arbitrary line drawing is inevitable in resolving a moral controversy like abortion. Consequently, I no longer believe that the pro-life side is the only morally defensible one.

That said, I think Roe v. Wade was a terrible mistake and that current Supreme Court - fashioned regime for regulating abortion is insufficiently attentive to the interests of the fetus. A federal, pluralistic approach would be best.
10.3.2008 4:41pm
Bill Owens:
I was raised Roman Catholic, and embraced the faith until sometime late in high school (a non-Diocesan Catholic high school). I was consciously pro-life through that period, though I remember wondering at the seeming conflict between the church's teachings and their willingness to provide the Sacraments to those who'd had abortions and divorces.

I've since become an atheist (passing slowly through a period of agnosticism), and although I am generally opposed to abortion when another reasonable option exists, and would like very much to see a society where reasonable options are more frequently available, I am in favor of allowing that choice to the woman.
10.3.2008 4:42pm
Suzy (mail):
I began pro-life, swung gradually pro-choice for a while, and then went back to a pro-life position. This is mostly because the reasons for my initial view were not well-informed or considered. I assumed that there was one sharp dividing line between Life and Not-Life, that everyone who became pregnant had total choice and control over that situation, and if not, that simple and proper mechanisms for accommodating the exceptions could be put in place.

I literally did not realize that 12 year olds are sometimes raped and impregnated by their family members, or that variations on this theme occur more often than I had imagined. I had no idea that most women who seek abortions are already raising children. I had never carefully scrutinized the biological process of conception. I had never been pregnant myself, never been close friends with a pregnant woman, and had only known abortion-seekers to be young, irresponsible girls whe could have avoided the pregnancy, and from my perspective could have made another choice without significant personal sacrifice. The full import of, say, parents struggling to decide whether to abort a fetus expected to have severe spina bifida had never hit home with me. I had never been exposed to the negative side (dishonest, bullying) of the politicized pro-life movement. So I remained simply pro-life and I argued the position vehemently with others, who gradually opened my eyes to some of the info I was missing.

Over a period of several years, as I learned more about these issues, I began to shift towards a pro-choice view. I still found abortion personally abhorrent, but like the commenter above who mentions epistemic confidence, I lacked the certainty and will to impose my views on others. That seemed like a good position to be in, as opposed to the hubris and cruelty I often saw in pro-life arguments, including my own.

After this reaction and some humility settled in, I decided that bottom line, abortion was still a moral wrong. The question then was how best to stop it, and that's where I remain today. I'm not as concerned about the legality, because I accept that abortion will continue whether it's legal or not, and the only thing that matters to me now is providing mothers and fathers with the support and education they need to confidently choose life, or to avoid creating a life in the first place if that's not what they want.
10.3.2008 4:49pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):

Can you define "social asset" in a way which excludes fetuses but includes three-year-olds?


Three year old human beings and the slothful have no relevance whatsoever to the issue of abortion.


The fundamental question of abortion is whether or not a fetus is a person. If you believe that a fetus is not a person, then no ethical issue obtains when considering an abortion. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then abortion is synonymous with murder. There isn't much common ground available between those two positions, but I can respect both of them.

I don't respect the position that a fetus is a person but it's OK to kill it anyway. Arguments that it's OK to kill a fetus because it's not a "social asset" should be equally applicable to other non-asset persons, unless the fetus is not a person in which case it's not necessary to make the social asset argument anyway. Either it's ok to kill non-assets, or it isn't. If it's only OK because the subject is a fetus, then you're just restating in other terms the stance that a fetus is not a person.



I believe that even if a woman does purposefully get pregnant she still has the right, as every human being has, to decide for herself what will happen to her body, even if that means changing her mind. Even if it was necessary to preserve my life I don't think I ought to have the right to force another person to undergo a pregnancy, or even something less physically invasive such as, say, donating me a kidney.

I don't think a foetus has any unique claim over the woman who is carrying it that gives the foetus a right to force her to undergo a pregnancy if she does not want to.

To use your basement analogy, I don't think the person chained in the basement has the right to demand to stay there for nine months. I think the woman has the right to kick him out, regardless of how he got there.


The basement analogy was not chosen to address this line of argument, so I'll change it to an airplane. You discover, at 30,000 feet up, that there's a stowaway on your Cessna. Do you have the right to eject that stowaway to his death? It's an interesting question with valid arguments on both sides. However, if we change the scenario so that it's not a stowaway but rather a kidnap victim who has been placed in your plane against his will, the question becomes less equivocal: you can't kick him out of your plane to his death because it's not his fault he's there in the first place. You have to land the plane first; you don't necessarily owe him anything once the plane is on the ground, but you do owe him a safe landing.

If you spill poisons into my well which cause my kidneys to fail, I'd argue that I am indeed entitled to demand one of yours- or at least, my medical bills. If your actions willfully or negligently cause an unconsenting third party to become dependent on you for his survival, then yes, he's entitled to compel your support for as long as it takes him to become independent. The right to decide what to do with your body does not exempt you from responsibility for your prior decisions.

(And again, if you want to claim that a fetus is different from an adult human in these scenarios, then you're just taking the stance that a fetus is not a person- which is fine; I'm only trying to argue against the position that a fetus is a person but killable anyway.)
10.3.2008 4:51pm
A Law Dawg:
This thread may be the holy grail of internet abortion discussions. Keep this up.
10.3.2008 4:58pm
HC1 (mail):
"Judge not so that you are not judged." The message in Matthew 7:1, here, is that one should not pass moral judgment. This is an unequivocal tenet of Christianity spoken by the Messiah. And, if this is the case, let the first one among us "who has not sinned cast the first stone."

The matter now before us is whether abortion in "wrong." It appears to me that it is wrong when it is being used as a contraceptive method. That is, abortion is being used to eliminate a pregnancy that could have been avoided.

Complicating this position is that many believe that it is a woman's choice to decide what happens to her body. Some would have us believe that while a woman can decide what happens to her body, she cannot make the decision to abort an unwanted pregnancy because of moral consequences. But, we are not supposed to pass moral judgments, are we?

Ultimately, I see it boiling down to the idea that women are still seen as chattel, and as chattel only males can decide what legally happens to them and with them. Until women are seen as equal to men, this matter of abortion will not be put to rest once and for all. And this brings up another message: "wives submit yourself unto your husbands."

Once an Equal Rights Amendment is ratified into the US Constitution this problem of Good vs Evil when it comes to women's matters will not be solved.
10.3.2008 4:59pm
Some Guy:
I was raised pro-life, and I still call myself that, but my opinion has softened because I cannot bring myself to consider an embryo to be a human being. (I don't know where the dividing line is, but it's not conception or birth. Maybe it's the transition from embryo to fetus in the first trimester.) Therefore I think birth control, the morning-after pill and in-vitro fertilization are all morally fine, while abortion after the first trimester is usually not (sometimes it's necessary to save someone's life).

In my opinion, the deciding factor is this: is this lump of flesh a human being? If so, then we should do whatever is practical to avoid killing it.
10.3.2008 5:00pm
A Law Dawg:
Informing this debate: An actual fetus's opinion:

It's the same old BS from these blue-state liberals. A fetus isn't a human being, they say. A fetus is just a group of congregated cells. A fetus doesn't have consciousness, identity, or intent. Well, you out-of-touch elitists, how's this for intent: the moment I get my placenta-covered ass out of here, you're going to wish you had me terminated, because I want my country back, and I'll do whatever I can to reclaim those values that made it great.

Speaking of which: Who's gonna stop all the illegal immigrants in this country?


http://www.theonion.com/content/whitehousewar/blog/gary
10.3.2008 5:01pm
Just a thought:

It is in fact true. Even so-called atheists who oppose abortion end up adopting the "human life begins at conception" position. The only support for that is religious, since science cannot prove when human life begins. They can build a secular sheen to it, but they start from a religious assumption.
Different scientists might have different theories regarding at what stage of development a human being becomes a human being (ie, at zygote, or embryo, or beginning of brain waves, or beginning of consciousness). But it is undeniable that the theory that human life starts at the moment of conception is supported by non-religious, scientific facts: at that moment some kind of entity with unique human DNA is first created. Now other scientific evidence might lead someone to conclude that brainwaves is the better beginning of a human being, for example, but the moment of conception position is not a purely religious position.
10.3.2008 5:02pm
tepidly pro-choice:
When I was an adolescent and first learned about abortion, I was shocked that the pro-choice position even existed. I believed, from first principles, that killing was wrong and that even if a fetus should only be considered a fraction of a life, a fraction of a murder was still unjustifiable. This didn't come from a religious upbringing or pro-life parents; I found out when I was an adult that my parents are firmly pro-choice, but we hadn't discussed it. The idea of abortion for reasons other than rape or medical necessity simply seemed monstrous to me. I still think most pro-choice rhetoric is revoltingly anti-personal-responsibility and cruelly cavalier about potential life.

Personally, I still don't believe I'd have an abortion even in the case of rape. But I've come to favor legal protection for early-term abortions for two reasons: (1) I've developed a more libertarian political philosophy and accepted that not everything morally wrong should be illegal, and (2) I'm not comfortable with the trade-offs of doing otherwise. Throw in a dash of the epistemic humility mentioned above -- I can't know what's right for every person in every instance -- and voila! A reluctant convert.
10.3.2008 5:03pm
ofidiofile:
from Angus:


Even so-called atheists who oppose abortion end up adopting the "human life begins at conception" position. The only support for that is religious, since science cannot prove when human life begins. They can build a secular sheen to it, but they start from a religious assumption.


true. figuring out when "[human] life" begins is the way it's generally phrased. and poorly, i think.

it is biologically the case that a genetically unique organism is formed at conception (which is itself less a single "moment" than it is a process which occurs as a series of steps over several days). "human" life? spermatozoon and ovum are each simply the haploid phase of our species. every cell is a human life.

life began ~4bln years back, specifically human life, ~1-2 million. as Angus (and others) emphasizes above, it is not so much when life per se begins that the debate should focus on but, rather, what are the biological characters that necessary to produce a person, and when do these appear?

imo no one without some basic command of the particulars of (human) pre-natal development should claim to have an informed opinion on abortion.
10.3.2008 5:03pm
Patrick Stephens (mail) (www):
As a younger man I swung back and forth between a pro-life and pro-choice perspective; I saw the issue as a conflict. After much thought (and reading), I concluded that the issue is primarily one of identity: when does a person become a person?

I'll quote from a longer article I wrote on the subject:

The ethical question turns on the issue of when a human life begins, i.e., the life of a distinct, individual human being—a person. There is no simple answer, because the different dimensions of a person's identity emerge at different points in what science tells us is a continuous and complex process of development. Genetic identity is present in the fertilized egg (the zygote). Cognitive identity emerges later in the course of prenatal development when the fetus acquires the neural basis for conceptual thought. Its biological identity as a distinct organism begins to emerge at the point of viability, and is fully present at birth. The person's moral identity as a being capable of voluntary choice on the basis of knowing right from wrong, his spiritual identity as a self-consciously differentiated personality, and his legal identity as a full bearer of rights and citizenship—these are all later developments of childhood and adolescence.

While there can be honest philosophical disagreement about the point at which personhood begins, there is no rational, secular basis for pushing that point all the way back to conception. It is true that the zygote is the first stage at which the genetic identity of the person-to-be is fully determined; and that fertilization activates the egg to initiate the processes of cell division and growth that will ultimately produce a new human being. But it is also true that a single zygote can divide in a way that produces more than one individual (identical twins, triplets, and so forth); and that many other factors during pregnancy affect the biological nature and viability of the fetus.

The most important consideration, however, is man's essential nature as a rational animal. In regard to our animal nature, the key development is the ability to initiate action in support of our lives; in regard to reason, it is the development of the cortical areas in the brain. Thus it seems most reasonable to set the threshold for personhood somewhere during the later stages of pregnancy when the nervous system has developed and the fetus is becoming viable—the same standard applicable in regard to the issue of abortion.
10.3.2008 5:04pm
Allan (mail):
Before I can answer whether I am pro-life or pro-choice, I must be able to define the terms. IMHO, a pro-life position is one that would put into jail those who opted for abortion and those who performed the abortions. In addition, a pro-life position would be that those who abetted women getting abortions would be guilty of a crime.

Anyone else is pro-choice. I think Sarah Palin would actually fall into this category. According to what I have read, Palin encouraged her daughter to keep the child. She did not forbid an abortion. That is a pro-choice stance.

Amazingly, I fall into Sarah Palin's camp, as I understand it.

BTW, I believe that Roe was wrongly decided and that the decision should have been left to the states on federalism principles. That is what I believe on a number of issues, including laws pertaining to violence against women, weapons possession, and drugs. What pigeon-hole do I go in?
10.3.2008 5:10pm
PLR:
The fundamental question of abortion is whether or not a fetus is a person.

Since I don't agree with that, it will be difficult to have a meaningful discussion.
I don't respect the position that a fetus is a person but it's OK to kill it anyway.
There are other cases where the killing of actual persons carries little to no legal consequence: soldiers, executioners, custodians such as Michael Schiavo.
Either it's ok to kill non-assets, or it isn't.
That either-or proposition is not self-evident, and again goes beyond the abortion question.
10.3.2008 5:15pm
Dave N (mail):
Dave N, I don't consider people who support limits on abortion to be pro-life. Only those who oppose abortion, period.
So it appears that for some it is a matter of definitions. I will still consider myself "Pro-Life," thank you very much, even if you have mentally moved me into the "Pro-Choice" camp.

The problem with abortion is that, as various commenters have suggested, it is not an either/or proposition. Instead, there are a variety of issues where people who considers themselves "Pro-Life" will favor allowing an abortion just as there are others where people who considers themselves "Pro-Choice" will favor not allowing abortion.

The problem with abortion is that the radicals on both sides (every fertilized egg deserves protection vs. allowing abortion almost up to the point of natural delivery) try to control the debate. Those who have thoughtful positions on both sides are lumped with those who don't.
10.3.2008 5:17pm
PLR:
BTW, I believe that Roe was wrongly decided and that the decision should have been left to the states on federalism principles. That is what I believe on a number of issues, including laws pertaining to violence against women, weapons possession, and drugs. What pigeon-hole do I go in?

Neither. It suggests your position on abortion is subject to revision once you leave the United States for a country with different rules for governance.
10.3.2008 5:21pm
Just a thought:

Before I can answer whether I am pro-life or pro-choice, I must be able to define the terms. IMHO, a pro-life position is one that would put into jail those who opted for abortion and those who performed the abortions. In addition, a pro-life position would be that those who abetted women getting abortions would be guilty of a crime.
I'm against abortion at all stages because I think that the unborn human entity is a human being who shouldn't be killed, but I don't think that women who procure an abortion and those who abet them should necessarily go to jail. Is that illogical? No, because there is a distinction between the act and the culpability of the actor. Going to jail is a punishment for someone who is blameworthy or culpable. When it comes to abortion, though I think the act of abortion is immoral and it should be prohibited, I don't blame the people involved in the abortion decision or find them culpable and deserving of jail because I know that they are in a difficult position and feel compelled to choose abortion due to difficult circumstances.
10.3.2008 5:22pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think it's just usually hidden by a much larger shift in worldview.

I used to be a catholic. I'm now an atheist. I never really thought about the pro-life issue while a catholic one way or the other but even if I had it would hardly have been the focus of my theological shift. That is all about the truth of central theological claims and years latter when you have sorted out your religious beliefs you might stop and realize that your know pro-choice.
10.3.2008 5:24pm
ShelbyC:


Neither. It suggests your position on abortion is subject to revision once you leave the United States for a country with different rules for governance.


Kind of a non-sequiter, there. There are two positions, one for the policy itself, and on for how it is arrived at.
10.3.2008 5:26pm
hattio1:
I went from pro-life to pro-choice. Basically raised evangelically. Still pro-life even after leaving the church, without a whole lot of thought. These are the things that made me change my mind.
1) It's not the government's business even if it is wrong.
2) Making it illegal wont' typically save a fetus, just endanger the mother as well.
3) Increasng realization of the complexities of pregnancy and how it can truly screw up a person's life, and really only a woman's unless the guy decides to man up and let his life be screwed up too.
4) Increasing realization of the history of the concept of "quickening" in Christian history and the acceptance of abortion prior to that point.
5) Increasing realization of the way in which Christians were being duped about #4 to make them staunchly Republican. (I realize that's controversial, but it seems that way to me, and he was asking about those who switched from pro-life to pro-choice and why).
6) Increasing radicalization of the pro-life platform...stem cells? Who really cares?
10.3.2008 5:28pm
tepidly pro-choice:
Patrick Stephens wrote

The ethical question turns on the issue of when a human life begins, i.e., the life of a distinct, individual human being—a person.


But really, it doesn't, not for everyone. Most people who are sitting at home mulling the problem over aren't putting all of their energy into trying to figure out when exactly the transition happens. They're trying to figure out how you can act ethically in the face of uncertainty. There isn't enough discussion about how we should act if the question of when life begins can never be answered. Those who have found an answer they like -- be it at conception, at the first sign of brain activity, at birth -- are constantly screaming at each other, and at undecideds, that All Good and Sane People adopt their position.

The debate would be a lot more productive if we addressed what the right thing to do is when you can't determine the ethical status of a fetus.
10.3.2008 5:32pm
Bpbatista (mail):
I'm both pro-choice and pro-life. I think every woman should have the choice whether or not to become pregnant -- or choice to engage in behavior that could lead to her becoming pregnant. But once she becomes pregnant as a result of her choice, a woman has no right to kill the baby.
10.3.2008 5:33pm
PLR:
When it comes to abortion, though I think the act of abortion is immoral and it should be prohibited, I don't blame the people involved in the abortion decision or find them culpable and deserving of jail because I know that they are in a difficult position and feel compelled to choose abortion due to difficult circumstances.

If imprisonment is off the table, what sanction would you impose for a violation?
10.3.2008 5:33pm
Sagar (mail):
PLR says:
"There are no positive social effects from the pro-life position, except in rare (and probably theoretical) cases where a population is rapidly dwindling.

A fetus is not a social asset. We can make more."


Like in much of Europe, including Russia?

"We can make more"?

who is the "WE", Kemosabe? When there is a demographic decline, you will go around making more?
10.3.2008 5:34pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The fundamental question of abortion is whether or not a fetus is a person. If you believe that a fetus is not a person, then no ethical issue obtains when considering an abortion. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then abortion is synonymous with murder. There isn't much common ground available between those two positions, but I can respect both of them.
Rred herring. Even if the fetus were a fully-formed human with every right that adults have, there would still be the same question -- does the woman have the right to remove the fetus from her womb, even if it means the death of the fetus?
10.3.2008 5:34pm
epeeist:
To oversimplify, as a matter of morality, I am pro-life. As a matter of Constitutional law, I believe that legally the U.S. is bound to be pro-choice. I can see that someone who is morally pro-life but believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, but was persuaded by legal and historical analysis that it was a correct decision, might become "legally" pro-choice, while still remaining morally pro-life.

I am both an observant Roman Catholic and a lawyer with a duty to uphold the Constitution (if for no other reason, the New York Attorney's Oath!). My current position is thus something like: abortion is morally wrong, but legally permissible, work within that framework to discourage abortion (including offering no-liability adoption or giving up children after birth, better/free pre-natal healthcare, etc.). Most "normal" people who are "pro-choice" that I know, still recognize that abortion is not good, they only support the availability of it, and would also support measures intended to support those who chose to remain pregnant.

I think Roe v. Wade was a flawed decision (I do think it should be a matter within the criminal law purview of each state, Constitutionally speaking), but nonetheless persuasive enough and not so "obviously wrong" in its reasoning that it's a given it should be overturned. So given principles of stare decisis it would be wrong -- and would also, and much more seriously, in my view be subverting the Constitution and judiciary -- to appoint justices with the purpose of overturning that decision.

In my view the "legitimate" way to "overturn" a Supreme Court decision reached on Constitutional grounds is to amend the Constitution (as was done to permit income tax in the early 20th century, following a negative SCOTUS decision). Alternatively, and not as a litmus test in appointments, if a majority of the court genuinely feels that notwithstanding precedent that a prior decision was wrong, it can revisit the issue, as it has on a number of occasions. That's fine too, but only if it happens "naturally", not trying to engineer it with selective appointments for a single purpose.

Both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" positions have a moral dimension and a legal dimension. What's more, they are both, politically at least, extremist positions -- that is, most Americans fall in a middle ground, not the "all abortion always is wrong, maybe except for rape or incest" nor the "abortion should be available to all, no matter what stage of pregnancy, including live births from failed abortions, including teenagers without parental notification, on demand, and covered by insurance" extremist camps.
10.3.2008 5:36pm
PLR:
Kind of a non-sequiter, there. There are two positions, one for the policy itself, and on for how it is arrived at.

You're right. What I meant was that you can't tell to which of Zywicki's two camps a person belongs, if all you know is that the person believes the Supreme Court overreached.
10.3.2008 5:39pm
ofidiofile:
PLR:



The fundamental question of abortion is whether or not a fetus is a person.


Since I don't agree with that, it will be difficult to have a meaningful discussion.


may i ask why? do you specifically have problems with the concept of "personhood"? is there something salient, something uniquely human in early gestation that we've missed? what's so special besides the genome/recipe? or, depending on how you feel, what's so special about the genome?
10.3.2008 5:39pm
Just a thought:

If imprisonment is off the table, what sanction would you impose for a violation?
For the woman involved or someone who aids her, no sanction. Simple legal prohibition/lack of governmental support is enough. For the doctors, on whom I would place more culpability, I'm not certain: perhaps nothing, perhaps monetary fine or revocation of license. But that is a discussion of prudential considerations that would come after laws prohibiting abortion.
10.3.2008 5:40pm
ShelbyC:

does the woman have the right to remove the fetus from her womb, even if it means the death of the fetus?



Dunno. Most of the discourse has been over wheter or not a fetus is a person. You wanna start formulating the argument defending a woman's right to kill a person that she placed in here womb without its consent for recreational purposes?
10.3.2008 5:43pm
Gilbert (mail):
@PLR


The pro-life and pro-chioice positions are not two sides of one coin. The pro-life position is based on morality and not social policy; as a social policy the position is untenable. The pro-choice position is based on social policy and not morality; from a moral standpoint the conflict between host and fetus is arguably a toss-up.


Funny how you replaced one false dichotomy with another. I think it's not correct. Just for example, the "culture of life" argument is explicitly aimed at broader changes than just abortion policy, and on the pro-choice side, Roe v. Wade itself was based on a normative private-rights concept (which is precisely why it is attacked as bad law).
10.3.2008 5:45pm
Nathan_M (mail):

The basement analogy was not chosen to address this line of argument, so I'll change it to an airplane. You discover, at 30,000 feet up, that there's a stowaway on your Cessna. Do you have the right to eject that stowaway to his death?

I'd say you have no right to eject a stowaway, regardless of how he got there. The difference is that flying a plane with a stowaway on it imposes essentially no cost on you. A pregnancy, on the other hand, is a massive imposition on a woman's most basic bodily autonomy and integrity. I don't think the state has the right to force a woman to undergo that to preserve someone else's life.

If your actions willfully or negligently cause an unconsenting third party to become dependent on you for his survival, then yes, he's entitled to compel your support for as long as it takes him to become independent. The right to decide what to do with your body does not exempt you from responsibility for your prior decisions.

I disagree in two respects. First, I disagree there is an obligation to support an unconsenting third party party until he is independent. I only think there is an obligation to compensate an unconsenting third party so he is in the same (or at least as close as possible to the same) position as he would be in where it not for my actions. I don't think a woman getting pregnant puts the foetus in any worse a position than it would be in if she did not become pregnant, so I don't think she owes it any particular duty.

Secondly, I do not think the state should be able to breach a woman's right to control her own body in such a fundamental respect in any circumstances. So even if the woman did owe a duty to the foetus to support it until it could be independent I do not think the state should be able to enforce that duty. I don't think the state should force people to undergo pregnancies, or donate kidneys, whatever we might think their of moral obligations.
10.3.2008 5:45pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
My opinion has switched several times over the years, and though I've also gone from Presbyterian to atheist, that change occurred before I'd settled on an abortion position. I now style myself reluctantly pro-choice.

My gut feeling was simply that killing was wrong, full stop, so tentatively I was pro-life, even as an atheist. When I became a libertarian, I first held to the vulgar libertarian dogma that everyone should be free to do as they want. This ignores the complex tension between liberty and license, but I was new to politics and was still figuring things out. I became pro-choice.

Of course, it's only a matter of time before one finds the principle of absolute freedom lacking, when one considers how far the freedom to swing one's fist extends. With that realization, so went the pro-choice position and I had the ability to switch back to my gut instinct.

I held the pro-life position for several years, gradually solidifying arguments for it. But certain tensions popped up and became salient, the most pressing of which was this: I tend to defer to parents in other matters concerning child welfare, e.g. in how they educate their children, in how they govern their children's behavior--why do I suddenly lose my respect for this judgement in the extraordinarily intimate issue of abortion? (To be sure, I no longer find this tension as troubling, because a. I'm more of an elitist nowadays; and b. the argument is based on a consequentialist philosophy, and I'm no longer a consequentialist. But it was important at the time.) That tension, coupled with Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous article, convinced me that the issue was sticky enough that I no longer felt comfortable taking a strong stand one way or the other.

But in such situations, as a libertarian, I usually defer to individual autonomy, and so I decided to do the same here. I still find abortion repugnant, but I lack the confidence to impose that judgment on others. Hence, a reluctant pro-choice.
10.3.2008 5:48pm
cgb:
Every fetus has the potential of a human, even if not fully realized, just as every child has the potential of an adult. This is not the case with either the sperm or egg alone. Once conception has taken place, however, you have something created with the potential of humanity, if left to its proper course.

Surely this must play some role in the moral calculus?
10.3.2008 5:53pm
ofidiofile:
cgb:


Once conception has taken place, however, you have something created with the potential of humanity, if left to its proper course.


true, but even then, the body itself may have other ideas. there's a 25% chance the embryo doesn't make it to the fetal stage. the argument gets more complicated the longer you wait, but i have no compunctions about the embryonic stage. it is the body's chance at a 'test drive'.

and here's thought experiment: in the near future, when every healthy somatic cell in the human body (via cloning technologies) suddenly becomes a potential human being, then what?
10.3.2008 6:07pm
Bruce McCullough (mail):
Who went from pro-life to pro-abortion?

Al Gore.

I guess he saw a sonogram and decided that it was okay to kill. Either that, or he had higher ambitions in the Democratic party.
10.3.2008 6:14pm
A Law Dawg:
here's thought experiment: in the near future, when every healthy somatic cell in the human body (via cloning technologies) suddenly becomes a potential human being, then what?


Then we can finally ban tanning beds?
10.3.2008 6:15pm
cgb:
The fact that a fetus may not survive is a red herring. If it survives, it will be a human being--which our laws prohibit killing.

As to the cloning argument, it is an interesting thought experiment. No, I certainly wouldn't take the position that a person can't scrape off dead skin or something like that. But the possibility of that technology doesn't persuade me that logic or morality prevents us from basing our decision about what moral rights to afford a fetus on its human potential. Other healthy somatic cells, when left to their natural course, will never become separate human beings. A fetus will.

And that fact has to have weight in the morality of the decision to terminate it.
10.3.2008 6:17pm
Melancton Smith:
Sorry I can't help you. I made the journey from extremely pro-choice to limited pro-choice.

I used to feel that until the child was born, the mother's decisions should not be questioned.

Now I feel that the cut-off, except in the case of danger to the mother, should be 1st Trimester. Should provide plenty of time for a decision to be made.

I am totally horrified at the so-called "partial birth abortion" procedure. I am totally horrifed at Obama's opposition to the "Born Alive Infant Act" in IL.
10.3.2008 6:19pm
General Disarray:
I don't know how this thread -- this one! -- has managed to remain so civil for >60 posts, but yes: more please.
10.3.2008 6:20pm
SamV:
I went from pro-life to pro-choice, but then I went (mostly) back again.

I have pretty much always considered the human fetus to be morally equivalent to the human baby, and am sceptical of any effort to line-draw someplace after conception, as the thing that we are valuing as a person just after that line is effectively identical to the thing we treat as a parasite just before that line.

However, I was persuaded, for a time, by the article by Judith Jarvis Thompson about "the old violin player." To paraphrase, she asked a hypothetical - suppose that while you slept somebody wired a real, undisputable person (the old violin player) to your kidneys, and said you had to support that person nine months or he would die. Although doing so might be the right thing to do, a requirement to support the old violin player isn't the kind of thing enforced under American traditions of law. In fact, you would be permitted to take affirmative action to cut the tubes connecting you to the old violin player. You generally are not required to help anybody out of a predicament you did not cause. If somebody is drowning in a lake, you have no obligation to save them, unless you did something to cause them being in a lake. So, I was left with the opinion that, while abortion may be morally wrong, it is not something that should be prohibited by the law.

Some years later I reconsidered. You ARE required to help somebody if your own voluntary conduct (even if that conduct was innocent) resulted in their predicament. This is the case with pregnancy - except in cases of rape or child molestation. So now I am pro-life, except that I think that abortion in case of rape or child molestation, while morally wrong, should not be prohibited by the law.
10.3.2008 6:26pm
AKS:
There are no positive social effects from the pro-life position, except in rare (and probably theoretical) cases where a population is rapidly dwindling.

A fetus is not a social asset. We can make more.


I'd like to think that the people who are born rather than aborted can have a positive social effect. I was an unplanned pregnancy, and my mom was less-than-ecstatic about being pregnant again only four months after the birth of my brother. However, because she was pro-life, I was born anyway. I certainly try to have a positive social effect; I suppose opinions can differ on whether I have succeeded. I realize that I am also operating under the belief that each life is unique, which is one that we could argue about for a long time and never come to any provable conclusion.

Obviously, I am pro-life. However, I think regulating abortion is problematic at best.
10.3.2008 6:32pm
Railroad Gin:
Untenable in that the central argument is: "My religion says this is wrong, therefore I must force everyone to obey my religion." In short, the only defense for pro-lifers is an appeal to religious authority.

1) Why is an appeal to religious authority, a priori, an invalid argument?

2) Even if it is, what argument is there for not killing 3 year-olds or 80 year old, excpet an appeal to religious authority?

3) What other laws that were motivated by appeals to religious authority should we repeal? (welfare state, abolishing slavery, etc.)
10.3.2008 6:33pm
A Law Dawg:
Some years later I reconsidered. You ARE required to help somebody if your own voluntary conduct (even if that conduct was innocent) resulted in their predicament.


This distinction is why the violinist analogy is so obviously awful, yet I keep hearing it (even in Con Law class).
10.3.2008 6:33pm
Deoxy (mail):
I am greatly appreciating this thread; it has been almost entirely civil, and the general ignorance on the topic has been shockingly low (this this topic - still faily naticeable).

I don't want to get into my own position, but I will point out several things I think are worth noting:

1) FACT (not opinion) "life begins at the moment of conception" is NOT a position that depends on religious belief. There are people who, for entirely scientific reasons, have come to the conclusion that life begins there.

2) To define "pro-choice" as "anyone who would ever stomach an abortion for any reason" is useless for discussion or political purposes. It is so useless that I am tempted to write something insulting here. It's like defining "wealthy" as "anyone who has any possession of any kind, even if they owe more money than it's worth".

3) "For moral purposes, I consider the fetus and the mother distinct (although I couldn't tell you at what point that happens), but for governmental authority purposes, I consider the mother to be controlling." Whatever else one may think of abortion, I would hope we could all respect this position, even if we disagreed with it. The government has abused essentially every power it has ever been given; perhaps we ought not give it this power - the cure could be worse than the disease.

4) "A fetus is not a social asset. We can make more." I believe this has already been slapped down fairly hard, but let me re-iterate: if "social asset"-ness is to be discussed, this leads to a great many other places besides abortion and fetuses, places 99% of the population simply won't go (differentiating between a newborn and a fetus, in terms of "social asset" is impossible, but killing a newborn will land you in prison, for instance). This argument is also useless.

5) "I think Roe v. Wade was a terrible mistake and that current Supreme Court - fashioned regime for regulating abortion is insufficiently attentive to the interests of the fetus. A federal, pluralistic approach would be best." RvW was a terrible decisions for many reasons (even if one agrees with the outcome), but the "federalism" reason is, IMO, one of the best.

6) "The debate would be a lot more productive if we addressed what the right thing to do is when you can't determine the ethical status of a fetus." Not really; if we're going to put in that kind of effort, then we should decide the status of the fetus, and let other choices flow from there. Indeed, ethically, most philosophical systems would place the burden on you to assume the fetus IS a person, and act accordingly, unless you could say with certainty that it was not.

This last point is really as close to my personal position as I want to get here: I wish the debate would be resolved in this fashion, with Congress doing an "end run" (of sorts) around the whole thing, and it's even (best I can tell) within their powers to do so.

Declare when citzenship begins.

Sure, that debate would be messy. Icky, in fact. But it's the real sticking point. Even if I disagree with the final outcome, we have created a rule that we can all live by and work to change if we don't like it.

Notice that I didn't state what Congress' decision should be. The most reasonable choices are listed below:
-fertilization
-implantation
-brain waves (or other criteria used to determine death in other circumstances)
-viability
-birth

Not all of those are really feasible, but they are all "bright line" enough to be a reasonable desired outcome, even if their implementation is messy.
10.3.2008 6:36pm
A Law Dawg:
I wish the debate would be resolved in this fashion, with Congress doing an "end run" (of sorts) around the whole thing, and it's even (best I can tell) within their powers to do so.

Declare when citzenship begins.


What is the effect of such a rule on a non-citizen who comes here (say on vacation), conceives, and flies home? Did they just abscond with a U.S. Citizen? How do we know?
10.3.2008 6:42pm
Hands off my family:
I flirted with supporting anti-abortion laws while my wife and I struggled with infertility, including a miscarriage. Hearing about people having abortions is extremely painful for someone who would do nearly anything to give a home to a baby. Having a miscarriage and waiting in line for adoption makes you want to end abortions. But. . . .

The fertility struggle also taught me how intrusive an anti-abortion government policy would have been on my family. Many fertility treatments would be banned under a true-anti-abortion policy. But worse, anti-abortion laws would intrude on some of the most difficult decisions a family has to make. In my case, a second pregnancy included some early tests that indicated the possibility of severe brain damage (the kind that means no meaningful life). Fortunately, those tests turned out to be wrong (we have the most wonderful little child on the planet), but I wouldn't have wanted the government deciding whether the brain damage was enough to permit an abortion.

Tests also indicated a very high risk of Down Syndrome, and we would have been overjoyed to welcome a Down Syndrome baby into our home (we turned down amniocentesis for that reason), but my wife and I were grateful that we had the authority responsibility to decide where to draw the line between nearly-brain-dead and Down Syndrome. We needed the authority responsibility to decide how much suffering was too much suffering for our child. Anti-abortion laws would turn that responsibility over to the government. No, that's our job.

After the miscarriage, I also became disgusted with some anti-abortion techniques. I saw my dead, under-developed, five-month-from-conception would-be daughter/son on the hospital chuck. The ugly-photo-technique of some anti-abortion people is crass and exploitative, and only reminds me of what was the worst day of my life. It probably has the same effect on others in the same situation, and there are a lot of us. You don't realize how big the miscarriage club is until you have the misfortune to join it.

I hate abortion. I wish women thinking about abortion would see the long lines of good people who would do nearly anything to give a home to their babies. But anti-abortion laws would force government to intrude into the private lives of families in pain. The laws would substitute government judgment for family judgment on many of the most intimate decisions a family can face.
10.3.2008 6:54pm
darrenm:
and here's thought experiment: in the near future, when every healthy somatic cell in the human body (via cloning technologies) suddenly becomes a potential human being, then what?

I don't think cloning is relevant. There is a process that must be consciously initiated to go about creating 'human beings' from clones unlike from zygotes. It doesn't happend by itself, at least not in humans. Once a cloned human being is created, regardless of how biologically developed, we enter to new area where arguments as to whether that clone can be arbitarily terminated or not do apply. 'Potential' as you are using it sounds like it's interpreted very broadly to mean anything that's at least part of what could become a 'human being' given the appropriate external stimuli. When it comes to pro-life/pro-choice, 'potential' generally refers to a fertilized egg, which needs only a friendly environment and nutrition, just as we all do, to survive and grow. (I don't use the word myself in this context.)
10.3.2008 7:01pm
Steve H (mail):

Anyone else is pro-choice. I think Sarah Palin would actually fall into this category. According to what I have read, Palin encouraged her daughter to keep the child. She did not forbid an abortion. That is a pro-choice stance.

Amazingly, I fall into Sarah Palin's camp, as I understand it.



Governor Palin's position is not pro-choice. Or, more accurately, she may be pro-choice when it comes to her daughter, but she's not pro-choice when it comes to my daughter.

I can't remember if Governor Palin supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but at the least her support of overturning Roe v. Wade means that she favors depriving women in certain states of the choice to abort a pregnancy. I live in a state where abortion would be criminalized about ten seconds after Roe is overturned.

So Governor Palin's stated policy is to remove that choice from many, many women in the United States.
10.3.2008 7:03pm
torrentprime (mail):
I have always been pro-life as a personal philosophy. I realized a few years ago that I had become functionally pro-choice as a matter of law and policy. Reason was that as I developed a more libertarian as opposed to a conservative philosophy, and as I learned more about the social costs of unwanted pregnancies (especially w/r/t teenagers), it started to appear to me to be wildly irresponsible, arrogant, and statist to force women to have children they don't want or can't support or simply don't choose to bear: the costs to their family and society as a whole isn't anyone else's business.
Note: I don't like this answer. I hate this answer. But it's the position I've found myself at.
10.3.2008 7:04pm
ofidiofile:
Deoxy:


1) FACT (not opinion) "life begins at the moment of conception" is NOT a position that depends on religious belief. There are people who, for entirely scientific reasons, have come to the conclusion that life begins there.


i question your FACT.

first, to wax philosophical, life is begat by a previous life; there is no moment when something "becomes alive". life began ~4bln years ago. if we mean a specifically "human life", we should say as much.

second: again, conception is not an all-at-once process; sperm meets egg; sperm penetrates zona pellucida (outer membrane) of egg; sperm penetrates nucleus of egg; genetic recombination (of n+n material) ensues. each of these is an event in itself, and may take hours to days to complete.

there is no "moment of conception"! it is a 'magical moment' that many pro-lifers like to pin their hopes on -- suddenly, the undifferentiated ball of 2n cells is bestowed with rights by its Creator! how do genes do that? amazing. or something. it'd be more fruitful debating angels dancing on the heads pins.
10.3.2008 7:10pm
Pat C (mail):
This is actually not what Todd Zywicki was asking for (I have had no change in position), but since many posts are on the fundamental issues pro and con, I thought I would ask.

I understand a common practice of in-vitro fertilization is to create a number of fertilized eggs, decide which one or two seem most viable, implant them, and then discard the rest (or use them for stem-cell research, etc.)

Do the people who object to abortion also object to this practice, and as strongly? These unused embryos are all Homo Sapiens now, not simply sperm and eggs. They have reached the point of conception.
10.3.2008 7:16pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
Regarding the scarcity of "how I became pro-choice" stories, it may be that other circumstances associated with the conversion discourage sharing. Admitting "I had an abortion" is potentially stigmatizing in a way "I had a baby" is not. This is in addition to concerns like those mentioned by Angus about ceteris paribus tendency to preach.

@cgb: Every potential sperm/egg pair is a potential human being, which is quite a bit more than can ever be produced. The fact that a given spermazoan and a given egg may be on opposite sides of the planet does not change the fact that they could produce a unique human being.

There is the matter of "if left to its proper course". If by "proper" you mean "unaffected by human artifice" you still run up against the failure rate that ofidiofile mentions. Further, birth control (when used by a fertile couple), by that definition of proper, cuts off the potential of a human being in the same way as abortion, by preventing the "unaffected" result of ejaculated sperm (potentially) fertilizing an egg.

So, no, the "potential", as opposed to actual, humanity of the embyro does not play a role in the moral calculus. Ending a human is murder (unless it's self-defense, etc). Preventing a potential human from existing is not.

Regarding the "social asset" theory: Parents are not allowed to kill, or even (in general) withhold support from children because they decide that the child is not a "social asset", though few children are socially productive for years after birth. So unless your definition of "social asset" is something strange, that theory doesn't hold water.

@Deoxy:
Life is not humanity. When the embryo becomes a human being cannot (at the current state of science, and possibly ever) be factually determined. I think you know this, but I wanted to make it clear. However, it is a fact that a fetus is alive (living cells) and almost certainly a distinct organism (different DNA) once conception is complete, which takes more than a moment, but is unequivocally done by the time traditional abortions (as opposed to "abortions" caused by birth control pill etc) take place.
I see no reason why we need to declare when citizenship begins to resolve the question. Citizenship is not humanity; killing an alien is still murder. We can make citizenship begin at birth, or even at 18, while still providing protection for embryos (and children).

@ A Law Dawg: I think it would be a bad idea to define citizenship before birth, but I don't think that's why. Afterall, if a non-citizen has birth in the US, she's still allowed to take the infant back to her home country.

@SteveH: Being against a SCOTUS decision to mandate something and still supporting that thing is not inconsistent. As Deoxy and others noted, RvW has a number of flaws. If you think federalism is worthwhile, that means taking the good with the bad. Whether Palin is being an honest federalist is a matter for debate.
10.3.2008 7:19pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@PatC:
They certainly don't object as vocally, at least as far as I can tell. But most of those are very early, while most abortion discussion is about post-implantation. It's hard to drum up sympathy for undifferentiated masses of cells.

But note the non-funding of new stem-cell lines produced in this way, which is meant to show disapproval.
10.3.2008 7:24pm
ofidiofile:
Gregory Conen:

thanks, i think you put i better than i did.
10.3.2008 7:25pm
PLR:
Since I don't agree [that the fundamental question of abortion is whether or not a fetus is a "person"], it will be difficult to have a meaningful discussion.

[ofidiofile:] may i ask why?

Among other reasons, because it is possible to be pro-life or pro-choice without answering that question. Pro-life: "A fetus is not a person, but someday it will be so leave it alone." Pro-choice: "A fetus is a person, but it is a trespasser that has no right to compel its unwilling host to carry it to term."
10.3.2008 7:29pm
nerdbound (mail) (www):
I moved from pro-life to pro-choice not due to a loss of religious faith but due to a close reading of the Bible and increasing disagreement with religious conservatives. The change happened when I was around 18 or so (I'm 21 now). I lived in Idaho, which is a very conservative Christian sort of place. I had moved there from California at age 10 or so. My family was and is conservative Christian. My dad was a lifelong Republican, with conservative views on economic issues and more moderate views on social issues with the exception of abortion, where he was staunchly pro-life. My mom had been a Democrat when younger but became a Republican basically due to becoming a single-issue voter on the abortion issue. So I was raised to be staunchly pro-life.

Growing up in Idaho, however, changed my relationship with religion. My parents had always encouraged me to read the Bible for myself. I went through programs like AWANA which involved the memorization of large sections of the Bible. As a result, I was more aware of religious issues than the average person in Idaho. My dad and I liked to discuss the free will/predestination problem, and evolution/intelligent design and other problems of theology. In Idaho, that kind of intellectual discussion of religion was rare. Faith seemed to be more of a gut-level thing. There were many people with great 'faith' who used the Bible as justification for discriminating against homosexuals or attacking 'towelheads.' I wish I were exaggerating. As you can imagine, this was made a thousand times worse by going to middle/high school, where people lack worldliness/nuance and the tolerance that comes with it (I heard plenty of racist comments from kids who had essentially never spoken to Black people, for example). But the state as a whole is not exactly a hotbed of tolerance, even among the adults.

The result of all this is that I became increasingly skeptical of 'extrapolating' from the Bible or 'Biblical principles', things which are not in the text. My change to being pro-life occurred alongside a number of other changes - becoming pro-gay marriage, strongly pro-evolution (where previously I'd been more theistic, anyway, if never a Young Earth advocate or anything), strongly feminist, etc. All of these changes occurred for two reasons: 1) sociologically, I made myself an outsider to Idaho's dominant conservative culture. I was not exactly making peace with the establishment. This is the 'non-rational' part of my change - less my changing because pro-choice arguments were better than that I and all my friends were the leftist dissenters (although they were all non-religious). But 2) I also began to realize that many things people advocate 'for religious reasons' have no religious basis. Even if you think homosexuality is immoral, there's no Biblical basis for excluding them from civil marriage. Etc.

The abortion argument is actually one of the easiest 'religious' arguments to refute. It's been a while since I actually went over this argument, so I might get it distorted a bit, but in a nutshell: The Old Testament says that if you eject a fetus from a woman when assaulting her, you should... Pay compensation. It is, in other words, a civil dispute, not a criminal one, certainly not a murder. Of course, what most Conservatives talk about is the Psalm where David talks about how God knows you before you were born. But a) God also knows you before you were conceived, and b) the Psalms are also where we get the geocentric passage about how 'the Earth cannot be moved' (Hell, David talks about the 'four corners of the earth' too, I believe). Basically, poetry is just not a good place to go for certain kinds of issues, and there is little reason to think David received a revelation from God about fetus souls.

Alongside this, I got more involved with philosophy. I'm now majoring in that at Stanford (that and economics). And of course the main philosophical arguments for when something has moral value are a) when it can feel pain, or b) when it can engage in rational thought. There are some others, but basically, regardless of what standard you choose (other than 'conception'... which seems to need an independent argument for why it's a good standard... where the only good independent arguments seem to be religious ones that I don't buy), early-term abortions seem to harm nothing with moral worth.

My position on the matter is thus that late-term abortions are morally questionable (although very rare), but that earlier abortions do not need some 'reason' (such as rape, incest, etc.) to be moral. I have talked to my parents about this since, but their minds are unchangeable due to the kinds of religious extrapolations I no longer like to make ('life is sacred' or 'we must protect the defenseless', etc.). From their perspective, what I say seems callous and unfeeling towards life. From my perspective, they have mounted no argument for why fetuses have any sort of moral agency/value.

Those are the main arguments which prompted my shift. I've learned/heard other arguments since then (epistemic modesty being an argument for letting mothers choose, arguments that many 'conceptions' die naturally anyway, etc.), and some of these may be good arguments, but what I'm trying to describe here is how I changed my mind, not what the best arguments are, so these are a bit off-topic, although they have strengthened, to some extent, my pro-choice feelings since I have heard them.
10.3.2008 7:34pm
cgb:
@Gregory Conen

I think it still does. Neither a sperm or egg alone, if left to its natural course, will develop into a human being. Therefore, birth control that prevents the sperm from fertilizing the egg is distinguishable. What it prevents is a sperm from fertilizing an egg, nothing more.

Once conception has taken place, the situation is entirely different. The fertilized egg, left alone, will become, if anything at all, a human being.

As I think about things, perhaps potential is the wrong word to use. Maybe destiny is a better one. Once conceived, a embryo/fetus has a human destiny. This reality must weigh in our consideration of how to treat the embryo/fetus prior to when that destiny is realized. And I don't think the fact that not all embryos reach the fetal or human stages changes anything.
10.3.2008 7:40pm
Big E:
I think many of the comments here reflect people I've met, conservatives who become libertarians often change from anti-choice to pro-choice.
10.3.2008 7:48pm
Chimaxx (mail):
The basement analogy was not chosen to address this line of argument, so I'll change it to an airplane. You discover, at 30,000 feet up, that there's a stowaway on your Cessna. Do you have the right to eject that stowaway to his death? It's an interesting question with valid arguments on both sides. However, if we change the scenario so that it's not a stowaway but rather a kidnap victim who has been placed in your plane against his will, the question becomes less equivocal: you can't kick him out of your plane to his death because it's not his fault he's there in the first place. You have to land the plane first; you don't necessarily owe him anything once the plane is on the ground, but you do owe him a safe landing.


And if you change the Cessna to a starship you can kick the stowaway out however she got there.

This analogy doesn't really inform regardless of whether it's a basement, Cessna or starship, an intruder, stowaway invited guest, or someone you or some third party kidnapped. It remains orthogonal and irrelevant to the situation.
10.3.2008 7:50pm
Concerned:
As a libertarian, I think the primary purpose of government is protect life and liberty, in that order. You can argue over whether you think its a life, but once you come to the conclusion it is a life, I cannot see letting it be killed. I have come to the conclusion, based on my faith and reading of science, that a fetus is life, at conception. Accordingly, I think it must be protected.

Since abortion is legal and worthy of preventing, I think the government ought to be giving out birth control like crazy. It ought to be pumped into the water supply.
10.3.2008 7:58pm
It's my life.:
I became increasingly pro-choice through high school and college, but it crystallized for me when my cardiologist looked at me and said, "well, a pregnancy probably wouldn't kill you." It's not just about the fetus's life - it's about mine.
10.3.2008 8:00pm
ofidiofile:
PLR:

Among other reasons, because it is possible to be pro-life or pro-choice without answering that question.

well that's kind of a given.

interesting that in your (not-quite-an-?) explanation, you seem to imply that this is an either/or issue. i respectfully suggest that it really isn't, whether or not one considers the "argument from personhood". thoughtful people will always see a lot of gray here, while folks on both extremes continue to insist that they can draw neat, rational distinctions across broad swathes of physical/biological reality.

cgb:

is anyone and everyone 'owed' a "destiny"? all conceptions that make it to birth do NOT result in a "normal" human being. (explain "normal" to me. do anencephalics count?) just another reason why human is human is human fails as an argument. (but an argument from destiny would make a great line of reasoning for putting people in jail for "pre-crime".)

you're making more of an argument for a kind of biological determinism than those (including myself) who think that it's having a cerebral cortex that matters; you're just setting the bar waaaaay earlier.
10.3.2008 8:14pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
A spermatazoa, in the vagina of a fertile woman, will, if left to it's natural course, make its way to the egg and fertilize it (unless fate intervenes, but fate can intervene to cut-off a fertilized egg, too). So, it's making it's way towards the egg, destined to fertilize it and become a human being, when it encounters a molecule of nonoxynol-9, which paralyzes it and prevents it from reaching the egg. The "destined" human is prevented.

For that matter, a man can reach the point of "ejaculatory inevitability" with his penis inside a vagina. If he does nothing, letting things "run [their] natural course", he will ejaculate inside her, sperm will be ejaculated into her vagina, and will make it's way to the egg, fertilizing it. If he instead intervenes by withdrawing his penis, the sperm will not reach the egg, and the destined human being will be prevented.

I see what you're getting at, and it certainly makes sense to differentiate between a fertilized egg and a sperm/egg pair. But you have to differentiate rigorously. It's a consistent position that aborting a fertilized egg is immoral and preventing a fertilization is not, perhaps because the fertilized egg has a complete functional, diploid genome, and thus is "human" (I disagree with this position). But stating that the distinction is because a fertilized egg is a "potential" or "destined" human is not right.

The "destiny" thing goes both ways, by the way. A mother who goes has labor at 23 weeks is "destined" to have a miscarriage, but with intervention it is possible (though not certain) that modern medical science can save a fetus/infant that young.
10.3.2008 8:21pm
PLR:
nerdbound: I moved from pro-life to pro-choice not due to a loss of religious faith but due to a close reading of the Bible and increasing disagreement with religious conservatives. [much more]
On that note, I'll join Angus (3:37) on the sidelines. Anything else I might type would be redundant.
10.3.2008 8:21pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Concerned: Any life? Should a libertarian government ban meat-consumption (except, presumably, carrion)?

If the answer to that question is no, then the government should be protecting human life. And we get back to that debate.
10.3.2008 8:26pm
Jerrod Ankenman:
I was pro-life. Now I am mildly pro-choice, in the camp of the violinist adherents who say "it is a person, but it's ok to kill it anyway." I still think late-term abortions should typically be impermissible.

By the by, the rape exception seems odd to me in the context of some of the usual arguments for abortion. If the argument for abortion being illegal is "a fetus is a person, therefore you can't kill it," why are the actions of some third party now justification for said killing? Yet people characterize "even in cases of rape" as though it's an extremist position, when it seems like one of the most coherent of the pro-life positions.
10.3.2008 8:42pm
Pat C (mail):
I hope I'm not being too weird here, but my position is based on deciding where the point is that the mother's "rights" take precedence over the fertilized egg's "rights".

But if in future it were as easy and reliable to remove a fertilized egg and place it in a willing donor as it is to abort it, then I might well agree that aborting most fertilized eggs should be illegal. In that premise the mother would not be forced to carry it or be responsible for it, but must hand it over to someone who will be, as we insist on now after giving birth.
10.3.2008 8:57pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Jerrod:
Several reasons.
The primary reason:
The rape victim did not have any responsibility for her pregnancy, whereas have consensual sex, even with protection, is implicitly accepting the risk of pregnancy.

Thus, pro-life advocates, or anti-late term advocates, look at the violin analogy and say it fails in most cases, because the mother caused herself (perhaps accidentally) to become pregnant. One must accept the consequences for ones actions.

But the violin player analogy holds perfectly for rape victims. Thus, even if a fetus is human, that explains why it is acceptable to abort it.
The second reason:
People make moral decisions out of emotion, rather than consistent reason.
The third reason:
Humanity is not a perfect dichotomy. If the embyro is somewhat, but not fully human, a rape victim may be justified in aborting the embryo, but someone without an equally strong a reason would not.
10.3.2008 9:03pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@PatC:
I think you have a point, though you are (in my opinion) putting too much emphasis on the "rights" of very early embryos.

Even if removing an embyro and reimplanting (or bringing it to term in an artificial womb) were not substantially more difficult than removing it and discarding it, I would feel that there is still a point were discarding the egg (or using it for stem cells) would not be immoral.

But I concur that, on the margin, there would be situations were a mother could give up an embryo for "adoption", possibly even being required to pay costs, but could only morally abort if that were not medically feasible.
10.3.2008 9:10pm
Just a thought:

Do the people who object to abortion also object to [in vitro] practice, and as strongly? These unused embryos are all Homo Sapiens now, not simply sperm and eggs. They have reached the point of conception.

Pat C, for what it's worth, Catholic Church teaching strongly objects to in vitro and embryonic stem cell research for the reasons you mention
10.3.2008 9:17pm
Angus Lander (mail):
Todd,

I was undecided on the morality of abortion (and even, after reading Don Marquis's "Why Abortion is Immoral," leaning towards the pro-life side of things) until I read David Boonin's "A Defense of Abortion." Boonin convinced me -- via an amazingly ingenious argument -- that abortion is always morally permissible.

Boonin's book is a hell of a piece of applied ethics, and I would highly recommend it to anyone regardless of whether he was especially interested in reasoning through the morality of abortion.
10.3.2008 9:26pm
notaclue (mail):
Great thread, folks. I'm pro-life all the way and have nothing to contribute to the main question, but thanks for the thought-provoking comments from both sides. I've found the VC a civil place in nearly every case.
10.3.2008 9:43pm
Katl L (mail):
A fetus is a human being with a right to live and the mother has a right to live. if only one can be saved it is a "state of neccesity", you dont have the right to kill but you cant not be blamed either.I i was call to made the call i would be unable to say let her die and left my other daughter an orphan. Before i marrying her i was a prolife catholic , that is, even in case of death danger
10.3.2008 9:57pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
"But I've never met (or at least talked to) anyone who has gone from being pro-life to pro-choice. "

That's easy to remedy. I suggest that you introduce yourself to one of several Democratic politicians who have experienced that particular conversion of political convenience. (link)
10.3.2008 10:03pm
huck (mail):
I've made the transistion. I was Catholic and pro-life. As I became more libertarian, I changed.

I did become less religious. I'd categorize myself as agnostic now. However, I became more pro-choice before the religious change. Although my doubt in the existence of God and Catholicism has certainly confirmed my pro-choice views. Or more accurately, confirmed my "anti-Catholic" views (for lack of a better term). I can't square being a Catholic and being pro-choice. I actually have more contempt for Catholics (particulary politicians) who are Catholic and pro-choice. I think you really have to pick one. You can't be both.

Having said all that, when I say "pro-choice", I mean that moderately. I have no problem with the state banning abortion in the last 2-4 months of pregnancy, or other some other restrictions. And I actually have more respect for pro-lifers than many of the pro-choice side, who I often find to be more dishonest and actually more extremist than their pro-life counterparts.
10.3.2008 10:34pm
Reinhold (mail):
Why don't you put up a post summarizing some of these conversions (or de-conversions)?
10.3.2008 10:45pm
Bobby G (mail):
One last bit: I think it's always immoral to have an abortion for reasons of birth control (to abort a severely damaged fetus, or to abort the result of a rape does not strike me as immoral), but sometimes the moral worth of what you're aborting is outweighed by the moral worth of not interfering in people's lives.
10.3.2008 11:02pm
Latinist:
I became more pro-choice (though my views were and remain vague and squishy) basically as I stopped sequestering the existence of a lot of my friends who are sexually active women. I've never been very convinced by any of the reasoned ethical arguments on either side, to be honest (the violinist and the airplane seem equally off, though I couldn't say exactly why).

I will raise one obnoxious question, though. Lots of pro-life people emphasize that they wouldn't want to send women to jail for abortions. Now if the alternative is just a fine or some lesser punishment, I guess that makes sense. But often, the argument is (I think) "we'll punish the doctors, not the mothers (or almost-mothers, or whatever)." How is this morally justified? Does this just rely on the assumption that pregnant women are weak and easily manipulated, and not really responsible for their actions? Or is there some better reason? Or is this view not as widely held as I think it is?
10.3.2008 11:02pm
John Kindley (mail) (www):
I used to be staunchly pro-life. While I still believe that abortion is morally despicable, my increasingly libertarian presumption against the use of government coercion and the criminal sanction has gradually caused a shift in my thinking over the years (although I still balk at describing myself as "pro-choice"). I generally don't buy the argument that a fetus can be considered an unwelcome invader, for which the hosting woman has every right to cut off life support. In all cases except for rape, the fetus' status is more akin to that of an "invited guest." But in cases of rape, while I still think the morally right thing to do would be to have the baby (and give it up for adoption if that's what the mother wants), I certainly think the mother should have the legal right to abort. While the child is innocent, his or her status is that of an uninvited guest, and the mother should not be forced to bear that burden against her will.

But if women should be able to have abortions in cases of rape, how are we to really know whether the woman was raped or coerced into the sexual act in which the child was conceived? Do we want to create a powerful incentive for women to make false accusations of rape? And while I certainly think rape victims should be encouraged to press charges against their rapists, do we really want to essentially force women who have in fact been raped to tell the government et al. that they've been raped, and presumably put in motion a public criminal process in which they must publicly testify, when the sad reality is that the evidence may not be strong enough to convict the rapist anyway (i.e. a "he said, she said" scenario)?

There are also other practical problems with criminalizing abortions. Is every woman who was a miscarriage going to become a potential suspect in an abortion charge?

And as much as I detest "doctors" who make their living by killing babies, I agree with the previous commenter, in that it makes no sense to give the woman who hires the hit on her unborn child a pass while prosecuting the hit man who wouldn't have "operated" but for the mother's dough.
10.3.2008 11:35pm
Bobby G (mail):
Perhaps the reason people balk at supporting criminal sanctions for women who abort is the same reason people have for thinking that the drug-user is less immoral than the drug-dealer (assuming that either is immoral in the first place). Unfortunately, I don't know what that reason is: perhaps it's that there are fewer drug-dealers than -users, so it's easier to take care of the problem by focusing on them? Or maybe drug-dealers are taking unfair advantage of desperate drug-users? Or maybe drug-users are thought to engage in their crime out of sympathetic defects like weakness of will, whereas drug-dealers commit their crimes out of greed, which is a more deplorable character flaw?
10.4.2008 12:07am
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Latinist:
Doctors are professionals, and have a code of ethics, and should follow it. Pregnant women have no special ethical code (due to being pregnant, at least). Physicians don't participate in executions, at the AMA's insistence, so it's arguable that they could be professionally sanctioned for participating in abortions. That's not what most people have in mind, I admit.

I also don't think the view is as widely held as you think it is. Some don't want women going to jail, just as many people don't want 1st time marijuana users to go to jail. They don't picture the women as "criminals" in the need-to-do-hard-time sense. Doctors, on the other hand, would be considered more equivalent to drug dealers.

I could be mistaken, though. I've heard people advocate other seemingly illogical positions, criminalizing the selling but not the purchasing of drug; paying a prostitute but not being one, etc.
10.4.2008 12:07am
Gregory Conen (mail):
Ok, that post was unclear. I think the position of many "soft" pro-life advocates is that getting a (first) abortion, like a first-time drug offense, should be get fine/probation/community service/education sentence, as opposed to a jail sentence.
10.4.2008 12:12am
Dave N (mail):
I have stated my position earlier and won't repeat it.

What I will say, though, is that there are 117 prior posts and this has been one of the most civil and reasoned discussion threads I have seen in some time. Congratulations on every one who posted today--it is this this kind of discussion that makes the VC the only blog I regularly frequent.

(of course, the trolls stayed away on this thread, which is a blessing of its own)
10.4.2008 12:16am
bluestocking (mail):
I didn't think it was *possible* to have this discussion. Anywhere.

It's like a fragile soap bubble. I keep waiting for it to burst.
10.4.2008 12:46am
G.R. Mead (mail):
I wobbled early on from an "agnostic" view, to a wobbler deference to the woman concerned to a more firm position opposing in almost every case. I am therefore intrigued by the "epistemic humility" position. If one asserts a moral admission of ignorance of necessary facts, does this require one to default to life or death as the admissible choice made in a state of ignorance? I suspect that this problem is behind the one-sided (admittedly anecdotal) trend evidence cited.

However, to put it in the government's hands gets much trickier, given the potential legal competing interests of the mother and the fetus. ... It's about whether the government steps in and overrides the completely symbiotic relationship of mother and fetus through criminal sanctions. Then the government is forced into deciding whether the mother can be legally designated an incubator and when. ... So my pro-choice views came about because I didn't want government involved, not because I no longer had moral views about abortion.

The state routinely intervenes to decide criminal issues as to competing interest to life in cases of asserted self-defense. In those cases we require the person responsible for the choice that ended in death to justify the act. In the case of the choice to abort, the choice presently defines the presumptive justness of the itself act, does it not? The power to choose determines the justice of the choice. This argument of justification is traditionally called "might makes right."

From a purely libertarian perspective, though, what is the justification in the choice model for the situational stronger human being to be the judge of the justice of his or her acts against another human being? If it is not a human being, what is it? If it is, then how do we reconcile an explicit case of "might makes right" that we in the enterprise of law have worked rather hard to reject in every other case?

If there is no other justification, is there a meaningful way to distinguish the exposure of infants, who similarly, are not viable without support? Is it merely that we may more easily deal harshly with people we do not know and by the act in question will never know? Is willful ignorance of the subject of the harm a justification or excuse?
10.4.2008 2:05am
Frater Plotter:
Does a person tacitly consent to pregnancy by having sex -- even with protection, as one commenter argued above?

A person who takes measures against a particular accident, while engaging in conduct that makes the accident possible, cannot be said to consent to the accident. I could completely avoid any chance of killing someone with my car ... by simply refusing ever to own one, or to drive. I choose to drive. This means there is the risk that I may kill someone, but it doesn't mean I have consented to kill anyone. Indeed, I (and most drivers) take great care to avoid doing so. The other folks on the road, and our insurance companies, demand this.

A person who has sex with protection is like a driver who takes care while driving. He or she does not (and cannot) completely eliminate the risk of an accident, but there is no sense in which he or she can be said to consent to an accident. Consent is an act of will, not an act of unintentionally insufficient avoidance.

To claim that having sex implies consenting to pregnancy would mean that driving implies consenting to kill people.


One possible rebuttal to this claim is the notion that the act of sex is essentially reproductive in nature, and that as such the sex act must imply consent to pregnancy; whereas the act of driving is not essentially lethal and thus does not imply consent to kill.

But that would be merely the fallacy of special pleading, though: it hangs the disputed issue on a point that is even more disputed -- and more unresolvable. Some might side with Nader, after all, and say that cars are "unsafe at any speed", and thus essentially lethal. Since we cannot see, feel, or otherwise perceive these "essentials", they are mere assertion.
10.4.2008 4:45am
Hands off my family:
Two more reasons why my flirtation with support for anti-abortion laws was brief. As I said above, I've gone through two difficult pregnancies (as the husband). One resulted in a fifth-month miscarriage. The other had some really scary tests, one of which showed (erroneously, thank God) the possibility of severe brain damage.

If our child had been severely brain damaged that she could never appreciate being alive, my wife and I would have wanted the right responsibility to make that decision. And if we made the decision to end our child's suffering, we would have wanted to be in a top-of-the-line hospital with top-of-the-line staff and top-of-the-line equipment. The anti-choice crowd has fought hard to make sure that we couldn't do that. Too many of the anti-choice laws are dishonestly aimed at safety, when, in reality, they are just intended as barriers.

Second, I thought of poor Michael Schiavo. I remembered what mainline anti-choicers did to him. I remembered the blatant lies they told (and the blatant lies they still tell). I remembered how they dragged him and his family through Hell for years. Why would I want these thugs to have any voice in my family's most difficult decision?

This discussion also shows why many pro-choice people won't use the term "pro-life" to apply to people who favor legally banning abortions. Many of us are passionately pro-life. Many of us want women to choose to stop having "elective" abortions. We just don't want the government to make that decision.

In this debate, "pro-choice" and "anti-choice" really are the most accurate labels.
10.4.2008 7:18am
Visitor Again:
My difficulty is in reconciling my personal rejection of abortion (except in circumstances like rape and real danger, narrowly defined, to life and health of the mother) with my refusal to sit in judgment of those who do get abortions. I believe life is the ultimate gift and, once life is conceived, it ought not to be taken except in the most compelling circumstances. Yet I will not condemn those who refuse to bring unwanted children into the world; I have not walked in their shoes. And I will not countenance compelling women to bring unwanted children into this world on penalty of criminal prosecution and punishment if they do not.
10.4.2008 7:36am
Seamus (mail):
if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported.

Similarly, if we accept a conjoined twin as an individual rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's body and demand to be supported. So anyone who finds himself or herself connected with a conjoined twin has the right to demand that the brother or sister be cut off and left to die. Of course, the brother or sister has an equal right, so there will probably be a race to the surgeon's office (if you can run a race with someone's who's physically attached to you, that is).
10.4.2008 12:16pm
Seamus (mail):
I remember wondering at the seeming conflict between the church's teachings and their willingness to provide the Sacraments to those who'd had abortions and divorces.

I guess your catechesis didn't go much into repentance and forgiveness, huh? (Also, it's not divorce so much that's the sin as it is remarriage after divorce.)
10.4.2008 12:23pm
Sara:
I was staunchly against abortion until at 17 a friend came to me devasted that she was pregnant. As we went throuh that time together, I came to realize that God intended for my friend to be in charge of whether to keep the child. God gave her the authority, because God made the fetus enitrely dependent on what my friend ate, drank, breathed and did. If its God's will, as I see it, that my frind have such authority over the fetus, then no human can gainsay it.
10.4.2008 2:44pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Fratter Plotter:
A person tacitly consents to the risk of pregnancy when they have sex, even with protection. Just as you tacitly consent to the risk that you will kill someone (or be killed yourself) when you drive.

The risk is inherent in the activity; that is an unavoidable fact, and not secret. You consented to the activity. You can take every measure to reduce that risk, but it is still present. If you deny that you are taking the risk of killing people when you drive, whatever measures you take to reduce it, you are delusional.

An importance difference between sex and driving, though, is that anyone likely to get killed has consented to the risk, also, by being on the road. So if, god forbid, you injure or kill another driver you bear no particular blame or responsibility (unless you were reckless, drunk, etc). The embyro, though, did not consent to existance or abortion (or birth), so you do have a responsibility to the embryo, insofar as the embryo is an entity that can be owed responsibility. Note that this applies equally to the father, also; paternal abandonment is at least as bad (morally) as abortion.
10.4.2008 3:15pm
Cara:
"The risk is inherent in the activity; that is an unavoidable fact, and not secret."

So, if the woman does not know this risk, ie., believes that it is impossible to get pregnant, the first time, than she is allowed to abort.

Moreover, as others have noted the question is not whether it's moral or immoral, the question is whether the State can or should make the decision.
10.4.2008 3:26pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Cara:
I would say yes, that a woman is truly ignorant of the risks should be justified in abortion, in circumstances when an "informed" woman would not. Though it's more of a "knew, or should have known" situation; negligence is not an excuse. I would expect this to be particularly relevant for minors or the mentally ill.
10.4.2008 4:58pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Dunno. Most of the discourse has been over wheter or not a fetus is a person. You wanna start formulating the argument defending a woman's right to kill a person that she placed in here womb without its consent for recreational purposes?
Yes, of course I do. If I let a friend live with me because I like hanging out with them, I can kick them out at any time, even if that means their death. It's not even an argument, it's simply obvious.

Nobody has a right to use someone else's womb, absent something approaching an enforceable contract. And even with an enforceable contract, our society currently finds such contracts unconscionable. This is why you can't pay someone for sex. This is why you can't sell your kidneys. And so on.

I'm not say there is a contract, of course. I'm saying even if you argued that the fetus somehow had the right to remain in the uterus against the woman's current wishes, such a right would be unconscionable. It would be equivalent to a right to marital rape.
10.4.2008 7:24pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@David Swartz:
I think your missing the true depth of the analogy. The "kicking out" in this case directly and inevitably results in death. That's like inviting your friend on an airplane ride "because you like hanging out with him", then kicking him out at 15,000 feet to plummet to his death. Still obvious?

Further, the woman doesn't LET the embryo live in her uterus, she forces it to live there, by creating it there. The friend, in your analogy, had a choice about moving in with you in the first place, unlike a fetus.
10.4.2008 8:20pm
Mikes (mail):
I am interested in the original question posed, and I am glad that it has been asked here.

In all of this, I would hope that for a moment we could each one of us take a step back from all our personal thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, and think for a moment about the following questions:

(1) Do we still feel a strong desire to protect the innocent, and do fetuses fit in this category?

(2) Why do we think there is a difference in a woman ridding herself of a few cells (someone previously mentioned the term "blastocyst") and a person taking the life of a grown man, teenage girl, young boy, or baby girl? Is there a difference? And if so, why?

(3) Why do we think that beliefs and/or uncertainty play into the equation/definition of life at all? Should they?

I think we would do well to re-examine our merely logical or religious (not to imply that these are illogical) positions so as to see what is really at stake.

My friends: The question of "life" versus "choice" is an unbalanced question in which two dissimilar things are being compared, don't you think?
10.4.2008 9:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I had been vaguely pro-choice in college. I took a friend to an emergency room. When she was being examined for whatever it was, I could hear screaming that went on and on. Somebody said she had tried to abort herself.
I figured having an abortion clinic on every corner was not quite sufficient.
Then I thought about it off and on and it occurred to me that every reason for abortion would apply to those already born. The only restriction was the law, an artifact of the state. The law, whichever it was, did not change the fact that every reason for abortion applied to the already-born.
So, along with the question of when life starts, brought me to pro-life.
The life of the mother is a possible exception. But those cases are rare. Women who kill their born kids due to post-partum depression or because voices told them to, or for no reason at all get light sentences. So the issue seems, except in the rarest of cases, to be social approval of dumping unwanted kids, their passage through the birth canal, or not, notwithstanding.
10.4.2008 10:56pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Mikes:
1) Yes, and sort-of/maybe/kindof.
2) Because of the gross morphological differences between (developed) humans and blastocysts. Blastocysts have no cellular differentiation, which means they have no nervous system, and no mental activity (among other things).
3) It's not the definition of life; a blastocysts is almost certainly alive. But so is a mosquito, and a patch of mold. The question is what protections and rights an embryo deserves, based on its humanity or lack thereof.

@Richard Aubrey:
There are plenty of arguments that differentiate abortion from infanticide. There is no nervous system until week 3; there is no detectable brain activity until around week 12. Therefore, an early abortion probably (and certainly for an "abortion" caused by something like emergency contraceptive pills) doesn't end a cognitive life, much less an intelligent or self-aware one. The startle reflex isn't observed until ~20 weeks, despite being present in lower animals like rats.

Further, an infant can be supported by adoptive parents or foster care, an embryo cannot (at least at this stage of technology). Hence the "violin player" analogy. The embryo places a (potentially undue) burden on the mother which cannot be removed without killing it. This provides a reason for abortion that does not apply to those already born.
10.5.2008 12:26am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I have known quite a few people over the years who moved to the pro-choice position when they became sexually active. Indeed, I would bet that's the main reason (other than losing one's religion) why people make this change. It's much easier to talk about this as an unambiguous "moral" issue when one doesn't realize how important it is to have an active sex life that is separated from reproduction.
10.5.2008 12:38am
Uber Catholic:
Does anyone have a VALID reason for being pro choice?Everyone concedes it is an evil to be avoided, though virtually no one explains why. So far I have heard only two reasons for the moral worth of on demand abortion both the landmark of positivist, utilitarian and nihilistic morals:

1. a mother, like any person, has absolute sovreignty over her own body
2. there is no point in asking when human life begins - epistemic humility

There is also the question of what the law should define. Bad laws are the fruit of a blind, naive or decadent society - what Socrates might call: 'making man the measure of all things' - arbitrarily defining through the law what constitutes freedom, truth, justice, without reference to any absolute standard. Whether the laws are made by a dictator, an oligarchy or the majority does not remedy their lack of any coherence apart from the subjective utilitarian considerations of those who make them.

The laws we pass through Congress shape our lives just as much as we shape them. With over 1.200.000 aborted lives every year, only in the US I hope we are not being blind and arbitrary with what we regard to be human rights and the values and liberties we want the law to foster. After witnessing the disasters of the last century it is fair to say that positivism, nihilism and utilitarianism are not at all valid sources for moral guidance.
10.5.2008 1:50am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Uber:

Neither of those reasons are why people become pro-choice; they are simply how pro-choicers ANSWER pro-life contentions about the moral status of the fetus.

People become pro-choice because of the necessity of abortion rights to ensure gender equality, and every person's opportunity to have a satisfying sex life without facing unwanted parenthood.

The reality is that pro-lifers don't realize how much their own views depend on a belief in traditional sex roles and/or a belief that being able to have a wonderful sex life that isn't tied to reproduction is either unimportant or selfish. They think that their pro-life views are motivated by nothing other than a concern for the sanctity of life, but that's not true.

The key text on this is Kristin Luker's "Abortion And the Politics of Motherhood", which shows how pro-life and pro-choice views don't correlate with a greater concern for protecting life but do correlate with how one views female sexuality and gender equality.
10.5.2008 2:39am
Joe G.:
Gender equality seems like an unobtainable ideal if the mother needs to eradicate her offspring to obtain it. And similarly, a sex life that sanctions killing hardly seems like fun -- it seems more like a game of Russian roulette, with the barrel pointed elsewhere.

I wish I could be more hopeful, but I believe the battles on this issue are soon to be worse. Rights of conscience will be the next casualty. Not only must abortion rights be allowed, but the costs must be subsidized by all, and medical professionals will either be forced to participate or leave the profession. Old rallying cries will be turned on their head, as pro-life professionals will plead "may I please keep my hands off your ovaries?"
10.5.2008 4:11am
cls (mail):
My change to pro-choice was similar to many here. I had concluded that conservative philosophy was wrong -- actually more than wrong, it was vicious and counterproductive. I became a libertarian.

I also conclude there was no justification for a belief in a deity. I gave up that nonsense.

I had still considered it possible to be libertarian and "pro-life" but concluded that the evidence was in favor of the pro-choice camp. I don't find justificaiton for the claim that life begins at conception.
10.5.2008 6:23am
Hands off my family:
UberCatholic,

You ask for a "valid" reason to change to pro-choice? There is no reason that's "valid" under the current official position of Catholic leadership. But the official Catholic position helped push me back into the pro-choice camp. That's because the position is internally consistent, and convinced me that there's a slippery slope from government intervention on abortion to government intervention into many, many other very private decisions.

The Catholic church is right. Abortion rights issues are directly connected to other issues--government intervention in fertility treatments (no more IVF), fetal medicine (almost no amniocentesis), legal restrictions on pregnant women (if an action could harm the fetus, and if the fetus is a full legal human, the government can impose draconian control on pregnant women), birth control (ban the pill and many other methods, if not all methods other than rhythm), marriage (marriage limited to those who can physically produce offspring), etc., etc., etc.

In my case, I saw how much interference the government would have had into a decision about how brain-damaged was too brain-damaged to make our child unable to appreciate being alive. We chose not to do amniocentesis, but I wouldn't have wanted the government to force that choice on us.

Legally banning abortion would lead us down a slippery slope of government intervention into our most difficult family decisions, such as the ones my family faced. The Michael Schiavo case is an example of the legal and extra-legal onslaught that the anti-choice movement is willing to unleash on families facing difficult, painful decisions. No thanks.

Hands off my family!
10.5.2008 8:05am
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Uber:
On the contrary, there are plenty of honest, pro-choice people looking at when a fetus becomes human, and deciding based on that when abortion should be allowed. So we can make scientifically informed choices, rather than "blind, naive" ones. While you might prefer laws relying only on the precepts of your religion (blindly following it, as it were), we have something called the "Freedom of Religion" here. Also, I refer you to Matthew 7:5.

Re: Gender equality:
That's not why. There have been plenty of arguments made in this thread that are independent of gender. If abortion is wrong, two wrongs don't make a right. Rather, the question is whether abortion is particularly wrong in the first place.
10.5.2008 11:36am
Steve2:
Professor Zywicki,

To answer your question, I finished becoming pro-choice about 5 years ago, finishing a process that started around 10th/11th grade when I realized the only reason I was anti-abortion was that my family had told me to be. So, I got to thinking, and I realized that the earliest memories I have, the earliest point in time that I can really be certain I was myself, are vague and fuzzy memories from around when I was 2 or 3. So, up until that point, "I" was a living human, but I wasn't a living person yet. If I'd been killed before that, I wouldn't have known. Killing me could only be an injury to me once I existed as a self-aware and conscious person. And so, I thought, "Ok, obviously chopping larval-me's head off while it was 3 months old wasn't illegal because of harm to me, I didn't exist yet and thus couldn't be harmed and didn't have rights yet. So why is infanticide wrong?" And I came up with three reasons:
1) Babies are cute, and the thought of killing them makes people unhappy.
2) While killing the infant pre-Me wouldn't have had any more effect on me than if my dad had bothered to wear a condom properly, it would nonetheless have injured a Person, or rather two - my parents.
3) Although I wasn't a person yet, and didn't have rights yet, the point in time when brain growth and exposure to outside stimuli had been sufficient that I finally developed consciousness and a Self and finally became a Person is hard to pin down except after-the-fact. A blanket prohibition on killing infants, although over-inclusive as to what people are, provides more than ample margin of error to assure that no actual person is killed.

And I realized, those don't apply to abortion... well, #1 does, but it isn't a very compelling reason. #2 clearly isn't the case, since the only person who could be injured by the infanticide is the same person wanting the abortion. #3 also doesn't apply: since humans don't become people until well after birth, there's no reason to protect pre-birth humans as a preventative measure against accidentally killing people.

So, I came to realize, there's absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Well, unless the woman in question doesn't want it.
10.5.2008 3:14pm
Uber Catholic:
Greg, and Prof Z:
And who and on what grounds does anyone decide what life is and when it starts? It is still arbitrary.

HandsOff:
we can add one more reason:
3. The absolute sovreignty of a family.

It still gives for granted that abortiomn is a valid option, without a moral argument. I might add also that sovreignty is the same reason given by many nations not to be accountable for their conduct. Does that sound like a VALID argument?

The best moral argument for being pro-life I have heard so far (NOT religious, since apparently religion is a bad thing!) is that our bodies should not be used as tools and resources without respecting their own bio-chemical balance.
It is an environmental argument, it recognizes the ABSOLUTE value of the environment.
Just as we have responsibility for preserving the environment we should have responsibility for keeping the chemical and biological processes of our bodies unblemished - unless of course there is the danger of an ebvironmental shutdown (i.e. death). Science and Psychology corroborate the detrimental effect of abortion, artificial birth control and generally urban post-modern lifestyles on individuals, families and society at large.

The Religious argument (non-denominational) goes even further saying that you can never directly thwart a human life - except as an undesired consequence of legitimate conduct, (i.e. your intention is not to thwart life, however burdunsome, weak, defective or unproductive). That is a policy decision, granted. Life has ABSOLUTE value, at any stage from courting to death (see Carol Wojtila: Love and Responsibility). Accordingly religious persons do not think it is a matter of choice but that Life is a given.

My question:
Is there a valid ABSOLUTE value behind being pro-choice?(i.e. good morals - not utilitarian, inconsistent and individualistic reasons for not having a baby)
10.5.2008 3:42pm
Hands off my family:

And who and on what grounds does anyone decide what life is and when it starts? It is still arbitrary.


Yes, it is arbitrary. That's part of why the government should stay out of it as much as possible. Some scripture supports the view that life starts at conception, other takes a different view. Even basing the decision on scripture is arbitrary.

Worse, once government decides that a fertilized egg is a full human being, government gains enormous power over some of the most intimate family decisions we make (birth control, dealing with severe birth defects, fertility treatments, lifestyle choices of pregnant women, etc.).

Some are comfortable giving government that kind of power over the family. Ubercatholic, you need to remember that the power might not always be in the hands of people you agree with.

You want an absolute. I can't give you an absolute. One problem with absolutes is that they can be absolutely wrong.
10.5.2008 4:02pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The best moral argument for being pro-life I have heard so far (NOT religious, since apparently religion is a bad thing!) is that our bodies should not be used as tools and resources without respecting their own bio-chemical balance.

This is a fancy way of saying you have deep hang-ups about sex.

Of course, if you don't want to use your body as a tool to enjoy sexual intimacy free of the fear of unwanted reproduction, that is your right. But using government power to force your hang-ups onto the rest of us is a different matter.
10.5.2008 4:13pm
John Kindley (mail) (www):
Steve2,

You've just made an argument in favor of the permissibility of killing infants up to the age of about one year old or so. I'm sure your parents would be so proud.
10.5.2008 4:49pm
scofflaw:
Dilan Esper said: I have known quite a few people over the years who moved to the pro-choice position when they became sexually active. Indeed, I would bet that's the main reason (other than losing one's religion) why people make this change. It's much easier to talk about this as an unambiguous "moral" issue when one doesn't realize how important it is to have an active sex life that is separated from reproduction.

I can honestly say that my views on the morality of abortion were not changed when I began to be quite sexually active. I had a one night stand with this girl, someone I wouldn't have wanted to have a long-term relationship with or "co-parent" with in a million years. Shortly afterwards, she claimed that she'd missed her period and thought she might be pregnant. I told her that if she was pregnant I would take full responsibility, and never uttered a word suggesting the possibility of abortion. In fact when she brought it up I said that I would not want her to do that. In retrospect, I think she was just testing me and/or messing with my mind, because I never heard anything further about it afterwards.
10.5.2008 5:00pm
Steve2:
Mr. Kindley, please note that I outlined three reasons that killing infants up to the age of about one year old or so is rightly not permissible.
10.5.2008 5:46pm
MarkP (mail):
I consider myself pro-choice, although where I'd draw the line in pregnancy is probably so close to conception that many would consider me anti-choice, depending on their frame of reference.

But I was a freshman in college (1985) when I made the transition from being staunchly "life begins at conception and should be protectable by the State" to where I am now. My roommates' brother, a man who was many years out of college, respectfully debated me for several hours on this topic and just asked questions -- as I recall, no strident pontificating (funny word, that) from him. The key question was: "Do you really think that an 8-celled zygote is a human being just like a grown adult, or even an infant or child?" The answer was clearly "no," so I had to find out: 1) if I'd draw a line; and 2) where that line is. So, over some months, I decided that I needed to draw a line, and I chose to draw the line at fetal brainwaive activity. That's still my view today.

FWIW, I have remained religious (I'm Southern Baptist -- ordained deacon, Sunday School teacher, etc.), and I became a Democrat in 1986 -- although I believe the two parties are too doctrinaire on this issue.

Great comments, by the way.
10.5.2008 6:51pm
David Schwartz (mail):
I think your missing the true depth of the analogy. The "kicking out" in this case directly and inevitably results in death. That's like inviting your friend on an airplane ride "because you like hanging out with him", then kicking him out at 15,000 feet to plummet to his death. Still obvious?
This is simply an inapt analogy. A contract to use someone's airplane is not unconscionable. A contract to use someone's womb is.

Further, the woman doesn't LET the embryo live in her uterus, she forces it to live there, by creating it there. The friend, in your analogy, had a choice about moving in with you in the first place, unlike a fetus.
Again, just an inapt analogy. If the friend had no choice but to live there because of his nature, that would have no effect on my obligations. It is the nature of a fetus to require its mother to live, the mother has no choice in the matter.

You say "she forces it to live there, by creating it there", but this is not so. No matter what she does, if the fetus exists at all, it will have to live in her uterus. She has no choice in the matter, nor does she force it to be so.
10.5.2008 6:52pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@Uber Catholic:

Is there a valid ABSOLUTE value behind being pro-choice?(i.e. good morals - not utilitarian, inconsistent and individualistic reasons for not having a baby)

Freedom is good. That's an absolute reason. It's also wrong, but no more so than your absurd absolutes.


you can never directly thwart a human life - except as an undesired consequence of legitimate conduct, (i.e. your intention is not to thwart life, however burdunsome, weak, defective or unproductive). That is a policy decision, granted. Life has ABSOLUTE value, at any stage from courting to death...

Which brings us back to the definition of "human", unless you feel that thwarting the life of a mosquito is bad. You, apparently based on your religion, define it to start at conception. Other people might define it by brain activity. Both of those definitions have some support, making them somewhat, but not entirely, arbitrary.
By the way, that is not an inherently religious argument, so I have no problem with it, though I would object to the use of religion in defining humanity. "Embryos have souls from the moment of conception" would be an invalid argument, for example.

@David Schwartz:
The plane analogy is no more inapt than the house analogy; a uterus is different from both.

The fetus's existence is a result of the mother's consensual actions. By existing, it is forced to use her uterus, or die. Failure to exist is not a harm, but death of an existing human is.

Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be this. Suppose I have a rare condition such than the next woman who becomes pregnant by me (even for a short period) dies. Would it be moral for me to have sex and not tell my partners about the condition (even with protection)?

If the aborted fetus is human, abortion is the moral equivalent of the above. In both cases, a human, who did not consent to the risk, dies. In both cases, the death could have been prevented by celibacy.
10.5.2008 8:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Gregory Conen
Ref neurological issues: So?
What does having a developed startle response mean in terms of whether it is moral to kill somebody?
As to the violin player analogy, the life of the mother exception is so rare as to be meaningless in the discussion except for one fact.
The life of the mother exception has been, and was designed to be, expanded to include anything at all. If the woman doesn't feel like having a baby, that counts. And that is why restrictive language on life-of-the-mother exceptions is resisted. They don't really mean it for life-of-the-mother.
10.5.2008 9:01pm
David Schwartz (mail):
The fetus's existence is a result of the mother's consensual actions. By existing, it is forced to use her uterus, or die. Failure to exist is not a harm, but death of an existing human is.


That doesn't change anything. For example, if my brother quits his job to come live with me, and then I kick him out, if he dies because he has no job, that's not my problem. The crux is the absence of an agreement that obligates me to continue to supporting him.

Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be this. Suppose I have a rare condition such than the next woman who becomes pregnant by me (even for a short period) dies. Would it be moral for me to have sex and not tell my partners about the condition (even with protection)?
Suppose I have a rare condition that the next person I have sex with must continue to have sex with me every day for 9 months or I will die. If someone has sex with me, are they thereby obligated to continue to do so? What makes them responsible for my life?

If the aborted fetus is human, abortion is the moral equivalent of the above. In both cases, a human, who did not consent to the risk, dies. In both cases, the death could have been prevented by celibacy.
That would make every birth a murder. Since every birth produces a human that did not consent to the risk and will eventually die.

Your arguments are total nonsense, and I honestly cannot believe that you believe them. I find it very hard to believe that you are making these arguments in good faith.

Would you accept a marriage "contract" that required the woman to have sex any time the man wanted it? Or would you consider such a contract unconscionable? Mustn't a woman always retain the right to say "no"? Isn't that what it means to be a human?

Would you let me sell my kidney?

You are making an argument for an enforceable contract that you almost certainly consider unconscionable.
10.5.2008 11:41pm
Steve2:

Ref neurological issues: So?
What does having a developed startle response mean in terms of whether it is moral to kill somebody?


Mr. Aubrey, I'd say the neurology matters because if the neurological function isn't advanced enough, there is no somebody to kill. Something without higher brain function isn't a person, so killing it can't be immoral. Unless it belongs to someone else and they didn't give you permission to kill it, but then the immorality's due to the "injury" to that person, not because of the killing.

The best way I can explain it is this: abortion technically ends a biological life but doesn't kill a person, so it isn't immoral; lobotomy kills a person but doesn't end a biological life, and it is immoral.
10.6.2008 1:09am
Uber Catholic:
Despite my username I am actually asking a real question -and it is not on dogmatic grounds. I am ready to become pro-choice with a valid moral argument.

Has anyone who has turned pro-choice come up a with a valid positive moral argument for the right to chose?
Not merely a justification for attenuating blameworthiness for doing something no one really thinks is a worth moral act.(it's not a person, not rational etc... not utilitarian or relative... I can do what I like with myslef)
It is preposterous that the law should recognize as ok under every respect soemthing that is morally dubious to say the least.

Let's adopt epistemic humility as our legislature does, and accept that we cannot know for certain when a person becomes such. Imagine that after all the religious people are right and life does begin at conception (over the course of a few days). Unless you have some further moral clarifaction of what you are doing, it would be impossible to distinguish someone who uses their freedom to murder and aquiesce to the death of 6.ooo.oooo Jews and someone who watches and aquiesces to the death of 1.600.000 unborn children every year. The law in the US is willing to accept this risk, just as it accepted the rick of being wrong on slavery, segregation etc... I hope this time it is the law that is right and not the luny campaginers standing outside abortion clinics. (that is rhetorical of course!)
This sounds like carnage to a religous person who values life as absolutely and uncompromisingly good all the way from sex, through conception, to the grave. For a religious person freedom is for life, love and hope, not for recklessness and destruction. Accordingly religious persons think the law should foster responsible relationships and healthy sex. Are religious persons bigots? Old fashioned prudes who do not embrace the joy of emancipation from morality? or have they got soemthing to say that is worth hearing? 1.600.000 abortions every year among under 25s says volumes about the life US law is encouraging and fostering right now.
No one likes to answer the hard questions. It's easier to make it personal. If you do not have an answer to my question do not insult or belittle what is a valid 'rational' question.
10.6.2008 3:13am
David Schwartz (mail):
Uber Catholic: A woman's uterus is her own. Even assuming a fetus is a person, there is no way one person can acquire the legal right to the use of another's body. This is why you cannot sell your kidney. This is why prostitution is illegal. This is why marital rape is a crime. A fetus cannot acquire a "right" to occupy its mother's womb. It remains there are her pleasure.

Even if the woman removing the fetus causes that fetus to die, that is too bad. If you cannot live without my kidney, you still can't have it unless I want to give it to you. And you can't contract for it, as our society regards such contracts as unconscionable.

Personally, I don't regard many of those contracts as unconscionable, but the alternate argument (which is a bit harder to make but the one I personally believe) is that there is no implied contract. Just as a woman saying "yes" to sex is not an implied contract that she will continue to consent until the man orgasms, a woman saying "yes" to sex is not an implied contract to permit the use of her womb until the fetus is viable. It is, and always is, *her* body.

I'm sorry you think she is killing a person, but it is still her body, and you have no right to conscript her to save another's life if she does not wish to do so.
10.6.2008 4:26am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Has anyone who has turned pro-choice come up a with a valid positive moral argument for the right to chose?

Again, legal abortion makes possible probably the two greatest cultural advances of the 20th Century, gender equality and sexual freedom.

That's good enough for me.
10.6.2008 1:28pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
<i>Has anyone who has turned pro-choice come up a with a valid positive moral argument for the right to chose? </i>

Again, legal abortion makes possible probably the two greatest cultural advances of the 20th Century, gender equality and sexual freedom.

That's good enough for me.
10.6.2008 1:33pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
@David Schwartz:

Suppose I have a rare condition that the next person I have sex with must continue to have sex with me every day for 9 months or I will die. If someone has sex with me, are they thereby obligated to continue to do so? What makes them responsible for my life?

You keep turning the responsibility around. If you have a condition, then your partner is neither informed of the risk, nor did they consent to the conditions. A woman who has sex is (or should be) aware of the risk of pregnancy. Your partner, in the example, is more like the fetus than the mother.

Turn it around, then. Instead of you dying, your partner will die without 9 months of sex. Does that obligate you (the informed party) to provide it? Assume that you did not inform your partner of the condition before sex. Do you truly believe there is no implied contract in a case like this?


Even assuming a fetus is a person, there is no way one person can acquire the legal right to the use of another's body.

What about a donated kidney? Once you've donated, you can't ask for it back. What about the binding "period of service" contracts associated with the military; those contain the risk of death, which seems to me worse than pregnancy. Just because some contracts don't transfer the use of one's body, it doesn't mean none can.

Regarding the "unconscionable" contracts; you seem to be a little confused. Contracts for prostitution, etc, are unenforceable because they are "illegal": they contract for an illegal activity. Obviously, bringing a pregnancy to term is not illegal.

An unconscionable contract is one that is one-sided to the extent that it is exploitative. There is nothing inherently illegal about the terms of the contract, but the result is an affront to justice; the court acts to "avoid any unconscionable result" (UCC 2-302).

While in some cases, being compelled to carry a pregnancy to term would be unconscionable, it is not inherently so. And given that not enforcing the contract also yields an unconscionable result, if the embryo is human (the death of an innocent human), the unconscionablity argument doesn't seem to work.

@Uber Catholic:
An unwanted pregnancy causes real and undeniable harm (as an absolute floor, the 1/10000 chance of maternal death). Therefore, given a relatively low chance that an embryo with no detectable brain function is human, the pro-life position inflicts needless harm on mothers that exceeds the "expected" amount of harm to embryos.
"Let's adopt epistemic humility as our legislature does, and accept that we cannot know for certain when a person becomes such."
Refusing to consider evidence, like the lack of brain activity in the first trimester, is not epistemic humility. It's willing blindness.
10.6.2008 2:20pm
Just another data point.:
Went from extreme pro-life in high school and early college (due to religious upbringing) to moderately pro-choice.

The change was due largely to rejecting the fiction that a soul enters at conception. If that premise is rejected, then pragmatism carries the day. There are reasonable differences after that on where and when lines can be drawn. Being a pragmatic issue, I also would not go looking for places either to proselytize or confess my earlier error. It is not a major issue at all.

As for the law, I am against outright bans on all abortions, contraception, and morning-after pills, but have no deepseated problems with saying a woman generally has to make a choice sometime before she has a healthy, viable fetus of 8-months.

Rather bizarre that you've never talked to someone who has gone from one view to the other. Kind of like those politicians who have never met a homosexual, I would bet.
10.6.2008 3:42pm
KeithK (mail):

I didn't think it was *possible* to have this discussion. Anywhere.

It's like a fragile soap bubble. I keep waiting for it to burst.


Great thread but I think the soap bubble is finally starting to pop. We're starting to get arguments about whether abortion is moral or not. Please, accept that some people are going to disagree with you and that you're not going to convince them. Reading about someone's thought process when they changed their position is interesting and possibly thought provoking. Reading that they're wrong is not.
10.6.2008 4:10pm
David Schwartz (mail):
GC: You're asking me to defend an argument that I agree does not apply. It was simply to point out that the argument I was responding to was inconsistent.

I don't think a "pregnancy contract" is unconscionable. I believe men should be free to make such contracts with women if they want. I have no problem with "if you want to have sex with me, and a child results, you must carry it to term unless you encounter some significant medical difficulty in doing so".

Again, the argument that I find convincing is that there simply is no contract. It's equivalent to argument that when a woman agrees to sex, she consents to the the use of her body, even against a change in her mind, until the man reaches orgasm. After all, the sex isn't done until that point. Such a contract is unconscionable.

Regarding the "unconscionable" contracts; you seem to be a little confused. Contracts for prostitution, etc, are unenforceable because they are "illegal": they contract for an illegal activity. Obviously, bringing a pregnancy to term is not illegal.
Sure, unconscionable contracts are unenforceable because they're illegal. But they should not be enforceable because they're unconscionable.

If you don't believe a person should be able to sell their kidney, and you don't believe that a couple should be able to enter into an enforceable contract that the woman must provide sex any time the man wants it, then you don't believe that a "pregnancy contract" between the fetus and the mother, even if there was one, should be enforceable.

Again, I do believe that such a contract should be enforceable. But there isn't one. Consent to sex is not consent to continue the sex to orgasm. Consent to sex is not consent to carry the fetus to term.

You can't say, "because there's some consent to something, there must be consent to X". There is only consent to what there is *actual* consent to. You, as a non-party, don't get to draw up the terms of other people's contracts.
10.6.2008 5:27pm