Thursday, March 03, 2005

arguing about abortion. or anything else.

If you want to convince me of something, the first thing you have to do for me is argue the oppposite side. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't do a credible job presenting the opposing argument, then you haven't listened to enough opinions, or thought deeply enough about the issue, for me to take your points seriously.

I said this one time, and someone challenged me to do it about abortion, an extremely emotional topic that's difficult to be dispassionate and open-minded about. Anyway, below is my attempt. I'm sure my bias is not difficult to detect...


1) A woman’s body is hers to control as she sees fit. The woman is the person by whom the physical, emotional, and economic costs of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-raising will almost always be paid. No one can make a better decision about what is right for a woman than the woman herself.

2) Fetuses/embryos are not entitled to the same considerations that human beings are, since before birth they are entirely dependent on the mother. Their relationship is in fact parasitic, and in such a relationship the rights of the host organism trump those of the parasite.

3) It’s better not to bring an unwanted or deformed child into the world; abortion keeps a child from enduring an abusive or painful life. The fact that a woman desires to terminate her pregnancy is evidence that she is not ready to shoulder the burden of motherhood, and should not be forced to.

4) People (in general, men) who want to prevent access to abortion are primarily interested in control and imposing their standard of sexual morality on others, not in saving lives of unborn children. This is evident in the lack of consistency pro-life often displays regarding
a. abortion in cases of rape or incest
b. IUDs and other post-fertilization birth control methods.
c. in-vitro fertilization or other fertility treatment involving selective abortion in cases of multiple implantation
What they’re really about is making women pay a price for having sex outside their rules.

5) Aborting unwanted children reduces the crime rate. A recent paper identifies a compelling statistical correlation between increased numbers of abortions for women in difficult economic or unstable family situations (ie, typical factors that contribute to juvenile crime) and the recent (last 30 yrs) decrease in crime.

6) Making abortion illegal would result in back-alley butchery for thousands of pregnant girls and women.

7) Abortion is wrong for me, but I have no right to make moral judgments that impinge on others’ freedoms.

8) If they really cared about children, pro-lifers would do something about all the already-born children who are suffering or parentless. We need to address those needs before we force women to bear and raise more unwanted children.

9) The U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, and this right was extends to a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

10) Life presents difficult moral questions and cruel tradeoffs. Because many of life’s questions have fairly straightforward answers, we often get away with brushing aside the sticky ones, or hiding behind simplistic moral absolutes. But the fact is that sometimes we are faced with hard choices. We play God all the time in allocating limited medical resources -- it's called triage. We tolerate a certain percentage of unemployment to prevent inflation; we permit individuals to keep a large part of what they earn (resulting in wealth disparity) in order that there be an incentive to create wealth, which benefits everyone; we set criminals free on legal technicalities to preserve important civil rights; etc. We recognize that life is tradeoffs, and even the pro-life movement is willing to make those tradeoffs, except when it comes to abortion. Abortion is regrettable, but to outlaw it would be the greater of two evils.

11) Nature itself sets the precedent for abortion -- some animals will re-absorb their young prior to birth rather than bring them into an environment where they cannot be cared for. Bringing children into toxic family situations is a crime against nature -- a far greater wrong than terminating a woman’s pregnancy when the “child” is still merely a bunch of cells. Furthermore, a significant number of pregnancies spontaneously abort every day anyway -- we rightly recognize that this was not a tragedy, since there was no “person” involved.

12) The world cannot support the human population of today, let alone that of the future; abortion is an essential part of population control.

13) Many women find themselves pregnant as a result of ignorance, restrictive social rules, abusive situations, male exploitation, etc. The reality is that the choice to terminate her pregnancy is often the only choice a woman will have in the entire process.

14) Although some women may abuse the right to abortion (ie, use it as birth control), that is a small price to pay for access to safe, legal means address the many situations where termination is the most sensible option.

15) We can establish a right to abortion without harming society’s commitment to protection of the weak because of the special circumstances present in a pregnancy
a. the woman’s well-being is intrinsically linked to the decision
b. the benefit to the woman and to society at large is easily articulated
c. a fetus is not a participating member of society and therefore has no claim to the rights and special considerations society grants its weaker members
d. any rights one may attach to a fetus are often difficult to visualize or enumerate
e. there is a consensus about the rights of existing members of society; this consensus does not exist on the question of fetal rights
f. the abortion process is private
g. The question of moral right and wrong is seldom -- if ever -- revealed by the prettiness test. The emotionally inflammatory aspects of the process can be mitigated through our choice of language (“terminate a pregnancy”, “right to choose”) and procedures (no visibility of aborted fetuses). In this way we can avoid clouding the issue with irrelevant sentimental concerns that might encumber clear thought on an already-difficult moral decision.


1) We accept as a moral truth that life -- and especially human life -- has value. Life should not be taken except under special circumstances (when people insist on trying to sell you Amway, for example.)

2) Society -- especially a wealthy society -- has a responsibility to provide for and protect those who cannot defend or provide for themselves. In fact, how we treat the powerless is a reflection of our society’s moral maturity. The unborn are entitled to our care and protection just as the elderly, infirm, and disabled are. Denying basic rights to the obviously weak and needy is a very slippery slope -- how long before involuntary euthanasia is seen as a viable social policy?

3) There is no significant difference between the value of a child’s life in the womb and after birth. All the pro-choice arguments about a woman’s fitness for motherhood, her family/economic situation, the quality of a child’s life, etc. can be made about newborns, toddlers, and small children, but we don’t recognize a mother’s right to end her child’s life after birth. To accept abortion and remain logically consistent, we must either
a. Accept euthanasia for newborns and toddlers, or
b. Identify a significant and compelling difference between born and unborn beings.
Life is most reasonably seen as a process that begins with conception and ends in death. The burden of proof falls upon Pro-Choice to identify another line past which the unborn become “people”, and worthy of our protection. Since very few are willing to draw such a line at birth (ie, support aborting babies five minutes before they’re born), conception is the next most logical place.

4) Just as the prettiness test does not reveal moral truth, neither does the issue of legality. A dozen pro-slavery and pro-Jim Crow rulings tend to diminish the weight of the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of abortion rights.

5) The fact that abortion is now safe, legal, and entrenched in our society (ie, that it is accepted and convenient) is likewise irrelevant; as individuals and as a society we do well to set standards that are above what we typically attain. There are no points for coming up with a legal or moral structure that most accurately represents what we wanted to do anyway -- if everyone began to steal, the answer would not be to legalize stealing. We have taken the idea that “If everyone’s doing it, there must be a reason” and transmogrified it into “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wise and right.”

6) Pro-choice arguments about the welfare of children are spurious in the extreme. One does not help someone or improve their quality of life by killing them.

7) Einstein said “You can’t simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” This was an exceedingly stupid statement (why do we give such weight to celebrities’ opinions on subjects they know nothing about?), but the point is well taken within the context of the moral values we hold up as a society. Presenting abortion as a safe choice devoid of moral implication cannot have any effect other than to make abortion more common, dull our moral perceptions, and enfeeble our consciences in the face of ethical dilemmas of ever-increasing complexity and importance.

8) Since Pro-Choice is always quick to employ ad hominem assertions about the motivations of Pro-Life, let it be said that support for abortion is first, foremost, and above all about leveling the workplace playing field. Acceptance of the natural biological order regarding childbirth would forever doom women to second place in the competition for jobs, promotions, etc. Since gender-based division of labor is anathema to the feminist movement, abortion must be defended to the death. And it is -- to the death of thousands of babies every year.

9) We live in an over-privileged and over-indulgent society where a sense of sexual entitlement has become firmly entrenched, and the awkward idea of costs/consequences is downplayed. Any policy that might suggest a need to limit our sexual expression in any way must necessarily be the work of repressed control freaks, envious killjoys, and fundamentalist religious nuts. (Consider: AIDS, while a terrible thing, is 99% avoidable through behavior modification; this isn’t true of most other serious diseases. But the idea that it’s possible to actually exercise the discipline necessary to avoid AIDS is greeted with scorn and derision. We throw in the towel on the issue of abstinence -- actually, we don’t even show up for the fight -- and move directly to complex post-infection treatments and hopefully, vaccines. Do not pass GO, do not collect one ounce of intelligence or self-control.) The idea of postponing sex until we are in a position to deal with the possible consequences is not on the board. Heck, we don’t even postpone *intentional* conception until a time when we can support a child -- we charge ahead, bonking like bunnies, popping out kids we can’t feed. And why can’t we feed them? Because we all think we live on Friends. Everyone is entitled to a big house, leather jackets, a nice car, and Club Med vacations. Prioritize our lives? Cut back on our lifestyle so that we can spend time with our kids? Screw that. Show me da money, baby. Where are my Caribbean cruise tickets?

10) The relationship between mother and unborn child is special in that it is how (God/evolution, take your pick) has determined that the species is preserved. Pregnancy is, for the mother of a *wanted* child, a time of growing emotional commitment and psychological preparation for motherhood. To liken it to other “parasitic” relationships in nature is to grossly oversimplify, and to speciously discount the aspects that make it different and unique.

11) For some Christians and Jews, it’s significant that the bible/holy books strongly suggest God is aware of people as individuals before birth, and that the unborn have some measure of personhood (Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 49:5, Hosea 12:3, Luke 1:44, etc.)

12) A belief system that gives more consideration to the right to life of confessed murderers on death row than to unborn children is a system based on self-delusion and willful ignorance. (Okay, that wasn’t really a pro-life point, but it needed to be said). In fact, I feel a bit of a rant coming on… RANT ON: I had a university professor who said, as part of a supposedly non-political health lecture, “By the way, it seems odd that most people who are against abortion are in favor of capital punishment.” (Self-satisfied smile at this logical zinger.) This bizarre bit of supreme stupidity or disingenuousness seems to be common! What are these people smoking? What is so blinking difficult to understand about the difference between murderers and unborn children? Have we lost so much of the concept of responsibility that it doesn’t occur to anyone that one’s actions have something to do with one’s rights? I am dumbfounded when pro-choicers bring up this issue -- how much harder is it to defend a belief system that might conceivably allow a late-term partial-birth abortion so that Sorority Suzy can go to grad school, but finds that apparently Adolph Hitler’s life is so precious that we wouldn’t want to deprive him of it even though he’s personally responsible for wiping out millions of people? What is *wrong* with you people? Are you even living on the same planet I am? RANT OFF. Okay, I feel better now. And as an aside, may I say that I support the death penalty in concept, but not as it is currently applied in the USA -- it’s expensive, we convict too many innocent people, and for the wrong reasons. But good golly me, if you can’t imagine a situation where a society might need to impose the death penalty, you must live on Sesame Street.

13) The incoherency of the pro-choice position is evident in its inconsistency. When the mother wants the child, it’s a baby -- killing it is murder. When the mother doesn’t want it, it’s “a pregnancy”, or “cells”. Apparently its worth is entirely a function of how it is perceived by the woman, as if it had no inherent value or moral significance. Five minutes ago, it was a baby; now I’ve changed my mind and I don’t want it, so it’s cells. Oops, wait, now it’s a baby again. Check back tomorrow, and it may be a frog, or perhaps a bicycle.

14) Pro-Choice angrily waves the bloody coat hanger, threatening that the back-alley boogeyman will be destroying the lives of millions of women if we dare to limit access to abortions. But the fact is that abortion is for practical purposes inaccessible to millions of women already, due to their age, family situation, economics, geography, or other logistical problems. In addition, in North America the stigma associated with unwed pregnancy is a mere shadow of its former self. If lack of access to abortion in today’s social climate were going to result in millions of botched back-alley jobs, it would already be happening. Furthermore, the majority of pro-life groups offer significant services to pregnant women, just as pro-choice groups do -- working together toward a society that values life and supports women is infinitely more important and beneficial than doing more and more abortions every year. Finally, even if it were true -- which it is not -- that significant numbers of women would be harmed by illegal abortions, two things would still be true:
a. The harm to the women would be less than the harm (ie, death) to the unborn child, and
b. 99% of the women involved would have had some say, made some choice, taken some action in the process; the fetus has no say whatsoever. This doesn’t mean that anyone deserves to be harmed by a botched abortion. But of the two individuals involved, the woman -- not the baby -- is the one whose actions have resulted in negative consequences.

15) Abortion often carries a significant emotional cost for the women who avail themselves of it. Finding out what a 9-week-old fetus looks like is sometimes a painful surprise. It’s neither irrelevant nor an accident that abortion often brings with it a strong sense of guilt and loss. These feelings are sometimes the cost of doing right; it is worth noting when they are the cost of mere convenience.

16) Every biological father should fulfill his responsibilities to his children; he should also have a voice in deciding whether his child lives or dies.

17) There are many women who are personally pro-life, but insist that it is important to preserve the issue of choice for other women. But the issue isn’t about “choice”, it’s about lives. By Pro-Choice’s logic, the Missouri Compromise was simply about “choice” as well. NOTE: Pro-Life has the decency to accept Pro-Choice’s choice of label -- we don’t insist on calling you Pro-Death -- kindly show some maturity and drop the infantile and insulting “anti-choice” crap. It’s beneath you, and you should be embarrassed to engage in such blatant mischaracterization of the issue. As if pro-lifers wake up in the morning thinking of ways to reduce people’s choices -- what nonsense.

18) Population control is a non-issue with regard to abortion; preventing conception in the first place is a far easier and cheaper way to reduce population if that’s what you want.

19) It’s true that some women do not have many choices when it comes to getting pregnant. But in North America this is less and less common all the time. The proper way to address this issue is to continue to fight for policies, programs, and most of all personal standards that value people and promote consideration for the rights of others. The answer isn’t to kill more babies.

Some random thoughts:
  • I have to concede that on an emotional level, abortion doesn’t disturb me much when it’s before the point where the fetus *seems* like a child (ie, before it has recognizable body parts). And I can’t reconcile this feeling with any kind of logical system of thought or spiritual understanding.
  • RU-486 (“do-overs for grownups”) and other similar drugs may make this issue almost moot. When there are no clinics to picket, Pro-Life will have nowhere to go. It’s not like people are going to picket your medicine cabinet, or fly to Europe to picket the pharmaceutical companies.
  • Part of the problem with this issue is that neither side is willing to concede a millimeter for fear of losing more ground, even when that millimeter of their position isn’t that easily defensible. So we have Pro-Choice supporting late-term partial-birth abortions, which almost everyone finds abhorrent, and Pro-Life insisting that the morning-after pill is murder, which almost no one really believes.
  • When it comes to human behavior, nothing is simple, and there are fewer absolutes than we may imagine. Every choice has consequences; every policy has costs. As moral beings we need to weigh the consequences of both our actual behavior and the values we uphold. I acknowledge that Pro-Choice has valid points, and readily concede that reasonable people are found on both sides of this issue. And of course, my opinion is still the correct one…


At Thu Mar 03, 06:33:00 PM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

Used as a method of birth control, it pisses me off. There are just too many other options for birth control, not to mention what repeated abortions could be doing (health wise and emotionally) to a girl/woman.
The thing that bothers me most about the protesters is their signs. They stand on corners in their "peaceful protests" holding larger than life posters of aborted babies. I have had the misfortune of getting stuck at a red light, with my kids in the car during one of these "peaceful protests" and I can tell you, there is nothing peaceful about having to explain what abortion is to an 8 and 10 year old.
I'm an advocate for freedoms, however, there HAS to be common sense with them.
Great post Bryan!
(You are a big cheater!!! How could you toss all of these words and multiple posts out in one day???)
Lois Lane

At Thu Mar 03, 10:45:00 PM PST, Blogger blogball said...

Bryan, this is quite an impressive post. (A little bit better than my headless roach post)
I really agree with the point you made about how everyone needs to consider both sides of the issue before they start acting like this is the one and only way to go. So many times I have talked with people and they haven’t even considered putting themselves in the other person’s shoes (or moccasins). It’s their way or the highway. I believe this is why some of the better prosecuting attorneys have had experience as defense attorneys and vise versa.
Anyway Bryan, this is a very volatile subject and I think it took a lot of courage to blogg about it. I think you pulled it off without one side or the other hating your guts.

At Sat Mar 05, 09:15:00 PM PST, Blogger mamacita said...

A nicely done post where you bravely walked a tightrope and I believe safely arrived at the other side.

At Mon Nov 01, 01:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jeff said...

hie i really like your post,its soo good.

At Mon Nov 19, 05:05:00 AM PST, Blogger jhon said...

nice post love it
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