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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Response to Five "Intuitive" Arguments for Abortion

I was made aware of two articles by pro-choice blogger Bob Seidensticker on the Patheos blog. This article will be written in response to Seidensticker's article Five Intuitive Pro-Choice Arguments. My next article will be written in response to the second article.

Intuition is a funny thing. There are some intuitions that all human beings share and which make a good argument, such as the intuition that morality is really objective. Even someone who denies it still has the intuition that some things, like rape, murder, and torturing children for fun, are always wrong and can't be gotten around by appealing to relativism. But some intuitions are not shared by everyone and are, in fact, influenced by our core beliefs and values. While Seidensticker may argue these are "intuitive" arguments, I would actually argue that for me, it is much more intuitive that all human beings deserve equal respect and merit as human beings, all the way from the point of fertilization. I think this is more obviously true than the position that abortion is never morally wrong.

So while Seidensticker may think these are intuitive arguments, I believe that once we unpack these arguments we'll find that the reason he finds them intuitive is because they are resting on unwarranted assumptions about unborn human beings and confusing basic ethical and philosophical principles.

He begins by alluding to his "spectrum argument," which I will be addressing in my next article. For now, he admits that these are not logical arguments but emotional ones. Let's see what they are:

1. Child vs. Embryos

This argument is just confused on all levels. First, I have addressed the Burning IVF Lab thought experiment (sometimes called The Embryo Rescue Case) in the past, so see that article for a thorough examination of this situation. In essence, the reason that pro-life people see this as an ethical dilemma is precisely because we consider human embryos to be full human persons. The "intuition" in this case does not support Seidensticker's position. In fact, it supports the pro-life case.

He then asks us to imagine the situation two years later. If you could save these same embryos when they're toddlers or one baby, you would save the toddlers. QED. But wait a minute...Seidensticker is talking about these same embryos two years later as toddlers. So Seidensticker (whether he realizes it or not) is assuming a continuity of existence between the embryo stage and the toddler stage, because he's asking us to imagine the dilemma of saving these same embryos as toddlers or saving one baby. Again, the intuition supports the pro-life side, not the pro-choice side.

He finishes off this section by claiming that no one equates an "invisible clump of cells" with a newborn or infant. This is just silly. Of course not. Nor do we equate infants with adults. They are different stages of development, and obviously an infant is less developed than an adult, as a human zygote is less developed than an infant. But they are stages of development of the same human organism. There is a continuity of human existence from fertilization to natural death, as Seidensticker, himself, assumes by making this first point.

2. Different reactions to abortion procedures

In this point, he seems clearly ignorant of the abortion debate in general. Of course late-term abortions are gruesome procedures, because you are cruelly killing a human child. This doesn't change the later you go. Pro-life people are just as vehemently against D&E abortions, which are the most common abortions performed and performed much earlier than late-term abortions.

So what about Plan B? Why don't we have the same level of reaction? That's because there's a debate raging about whether or not certain pills like Plan B cause an early abortion. In fact, most pro-choice people argue that it doesn't cause an early abortion (because it prevents conception, but doesn't prevent implantation once a human zygote is conceived). But pro-life people argue that it does make the uterus inhabitable to the zygote, so if one conceives it causes an early abortion by preventing the zygote from implanting. So again, this statement is either made out of ignorance, or out of dishonesty. I'll choose the former to give him the benefit of the doubt. If Plan B does cause an early abortion, the pro-life people would be just as vehemently opposed to it. There is no "spectrum" at play here, because pro-life people see the unborn as intrinsically valuable at all points of his/her development.

But the science is in. Not only does Plan B not work as a contraceptive, it actually does cause early abortions, as Dr. Rich Poupard tells us in this article (and has talked about it with Life Report for an upcoming episode).

3. Slaughtering animals for food

More confusion from Seidensticker. First, the fact that cows can experience pain and fear is exactly the reason why we have a stronger reaction against the death of a cow than the death of a human zygote. This does not mean the cow is more valuable, it simply means the cow will suffer and the zygote will not. This doesn't mean it's not wrong to kill the zygote, because suffering and fear are not morally relevant in the question of whether it's moral to kill someone. You can kill someone painlessly and without scaring them while they're asleep, yet it would still be wrong to kill a sleeping person.

Seidensticker mentions human potentiality, but we must be sure to respect the difference between passive potentiality and active potentiality. Four and sugar have the passive potential to become a cake. They have this passive potentiality because the flour and sugar can go in to make anything, and left on their own they will not become a cake. It requires a baker to put them together and make a cake. But the human zygote has the active potentiality to develop their human traits and personal abilities. They have this ability within themselves to develop it and if allowed to develop normally they will develop these abilities. This active potentiality matters because they are already full human persons, they are just immature human persons.

So his claim that the only trait a blastocyst shares in common with a person is DNA is clearly mistaken. It also share the inherent nature of a person, the rational nature, as well as the inherent capacity to develop human traits and personal functions (like rationality, consciousness, etc.). The only reason I have the ability to be rational now is because I had the inherent nature as a zygote to be rational. If I did not have that inherent nature, I would not now be rational. Flies are never rational creatures because they don't have the inherent capacity to be rational. This also accounts for why we are the same person through all points in our life. We change dramatically over the course of our lives, and we also temporarily lose our personal functions for roughly six to eight hours a night when we fall asleep. Yet we don't wake up as entirely different people as we would if personhood were tied to our present functions.

Also, the argument that spontaneous abortions happen is just silly (again). The fact that people die naturally does not justify murder. And his argument about the thousand dollars possibly not winning is a false analogy. One thousand dollars does not develop into ten thousand dollars on its own, whereas at all points in human development the entity is developing herself on her own into the next stage of development. All the human being needs to develop on her own is proper nutrition, a proper environment, and an absence of fatal threats. This is not a gamble, it's natural human reproduction and development. Besides, once the zygote implants in the womb, her chances of surviving to birth a dramatically increased. So even if Seidensticker's 
argument succeeded, it would only justify a pill that caused an abortion before implantation, not surgical abortions.

4. Cloning and skin cells

Another confusion of a basic philosophical principle. Seidensticker's "intuition" here fails because he fails to make a distinction between active and passive potentialities. Human skin cells are only potential persons in the same sense that the flour and sugar are a potential cake. Left alone, they will die, not develop into a more mature human being. Conversely, the human zygote from fertilization has the active potentiality to develop herself into a more mature version of herself. There is a clear difference between a skin cell and a human zygote; it's just basic biology.

5. Saving another person's life

Finally, Seidensticker finishes by arguing that you might give up your life for a stranger, but you wouldn't give up your life for a blastocyst. But how does he know this? I think the question is confused as no one can seriously be expected to give up their life for a blastocyst, as the child is no longer a blastocyst when the mother finds out she's pregnant, or when she can first feel the baby kicking. If the blastocyst dies, no one will even know about it because at that point the zygote is still on her way to implanting in the uterus (and I refer to the zygote as "she" because her gender is written into her DNA, even though it's not visible yet).

So this question is just confused. First, not only would not everyone give their lives for a stranger (and I don't think we have a moral obligation to do so), but second no one could possibly give their lives for a blastocyst. But let's move the pregnancy forward a little bit. Would women give their lives for their unborn human embryo? I have argued elsewhere that a woman should not be legally compelled to continue a life-threatening pregnancy, if a pregnancy were ever truly life-threatening and if the child could not be delivered, but some women actually do choose to go through with a life-threatening pregnancy, choose to risk their own lives for the life of their unborn child. Here's one such example of a woman giving up her life for her unborn child.

It's ironic that Seidensticker would end his article with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., who surely would have stood up for the rights of the unborn today as he stood up for the rights of blacks in the 1950's and '60's. After all, the reasons that we should treat blacks as persons are the same reasons we should treat the unborn as persons. Every reason that blacks are equal to us are the reasons that the unborn are equal to us -- because of our common human nature.

Seidensticker's intuitions are clearly mistaken on this matter, and his arguments don't really support his case. In fact, they actually support the pro-life position, not the pro-choice position. Next time, I'll respond to Seidensticker's "spectrum argument" against unborn personhood. And now, I'll take the lead from Seidensticker and end with a thought-provoking quote.

"You say 'A' is white and 'B' is black. It is color, then: the lighter having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are a slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly -- You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again: By this rule you are to be a slave to the first man you meet with an intellect superior to your own.

But you say it is a question of interest, and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you."
--Abraham Lincoln

14 comments:

  1. "Every reason that blacks are equal to us are the reasons that the unborn are equal to us"

    Well, except that African-Americans aren't still living in mummy's tummy.

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    1. Well, unborn ones are. :)

      But why does the fact that unborn children are still in the mother's uterus mean that they are not equal to us?

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    2. Because if the fetus is still inside the woman, she should have a say in the matter, shouldn't she? Doesn't the fact that the "unborn" are developing inside a woman's body make them essentially different than the "already-born"? If not, why not?

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    3. I don't see why simply being inside the mother has any bearing on whether or not she should have the right to kill him. Why does the fact that the child resides inside the mother give her the right to take his life?

      I think that the child developing inside the mother is *a* difference, but I don't think the difference is extreme enough to justify taking the life of the human fetus that's in there. My position is that it is wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being. Since the unborn from fertilization are innocent human beings, then it is wrong to take their life through abortion. I don't see why being inside the mother makes a morally relevant difference in the question of whether or not she can take your life. That's why I'm asking you, since you take that position.

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    4. The fact that the "child" resides in the mother is, as I said, enough to make this essentially unlike any form of life apart from parasitic life. You make it sound like the mother is just a vague environment the fetus inhabits before moving onto other locations like cribs and carseats.

      The woman is a rational agent who needs to be considered in this matter. You're ignoring her, and the fact that the "child" hasn't even been born yet, to make a wholly unwarranted comparison between a fully-developed child and a fetus still undergoing gestation.

      You say that the unborn are "innocent" human beings, which makes me think that this is about cheap moralism and dehumanizing sexually active women. Your disingenuity in repeating the same statements in lieu of dealing with the points I've made tells me you're probably not interested in dialogue.

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    5. I am very much interested in dialogue, but you seem unable to support your arguments (using obviously incorrect analogies like comparing it to a parasite). I'm not repeating the same statements. In fact, I have supported my statements. The unborn is a human being from fertilization. This is supported by science. If you disagree, your argument is with science, not with me. In fact, I recently wrote an article explaining the science of human development, and showing that even pro-choice philosophers agree with the science of human development.

      So no, the unborn child is not like a parasite. A parasite is a member of a different species that lives off of its host and gives nothing back in return. It's an unnatural relationship. The mother/child relationship is the most natural relationship in the world, and the unborn child is right exactly where he/she needs to be, where every human being spends the first nine months of their life, in the womb. In fact, the relationship isn't even parasitic in nature. It's symbiotic. There is a process called microchimerism in which the mother and child exchange cells while she resides in the womb, which has been known to boost her immune system to stave off illness, and may even be helpful in preventing some cancers. Even calling a born child "fully developed" is incorrect, as once you are born your development doesn't end. There is a continuity of human existence from fertilization to natural death, and you don't actually become fully developed until sometime in your mid-20s. So it's entirely appropriate to compare an unborn human being with a born human being, and I'll never understand the pro-choice necessity to ignore basic biology and human development in order to try and convince themselves that it's okay to kill an embryo or a fetus because they're not really "one of us." Science and reason disagrees with that assessment.

      So no, I'm not ignoring the mother. In fact, I believe that if the child is not yet viable and the pregnancy is truly life threatening, then an abortion is morally permitted. But the reality of it is that sex creates new human life. In the vast majority of cases, a woman engages in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward creation of new life. If new life arises as a result of her actions, then she tacitly waives her right to bodily autonomy because she's responsible (partly, of course, as the man is responsible for this, too) for providing for it and not killing it. Your comments that this is about "cheap moralism" and "dehumanizing sexually active women" is just emotional rhetorical nonsense, indicating to me that you're the one who is not truly interested in dialogue. I have supported my statements. You have yet to give me an argument supporting your statements, even though I've asked twice now.

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    6. "But the reality of it is that sex creates new human life. In the vast majority of cases, a woman engages in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward creation of new life. If new life arises as a result of her actions, then she tacitly waives her right to bodily autonomy because she's responsible (partly, of course, as the man is responsible for this, too) for providing for it and not killing it. Your comments that this is about "cheap moralism" and "dehumanizing sexually active women" is just emotional rhetorical nonsense, indicating to me that you're the one who is not truly interested in dialogue."

      Clinton, my argument always was, and remains, that the woman needs to be considered a relevant difference between a fetus and a true child. Her rights over her body have to be considered, since she is a human being with rights and responsibilities.

      However, you choose to focus on the development of the zygote, the blastocyst, the fetus, and completely erase the woman from the matter. According to you, she is merely an environment for the fetus.

      You demonize sexually active women by defining terminating a pregnancy not as preventing a child from being born but killing one. You declare that, by engaging in the act of sex, the woman has relinquished her right to her bodily autonomy and any concern we should have for her. It's clear that your rhetoric about the "innocent child" is the appeal to emotion here, one that panders to misogyny and puritanism.

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    7. 'Clinton, my argument always was, and remains, that the woman needs to be considered a relevant difference between a fetus and a true child. Her rights over her body have to be considered, since she is a human being with rights and responsibilities.'

      Mrhambre, no one is claiming that a women is not more developed but one should not conclude that simply because another human being is more developed that they are de facto more morally valuable. That doesn't follow logically. You equate a 'true child' with being a born child but nothing changes the ontological nature of a human being as it travels down the birth canal, the only thing that has changed is their location which is not a morally relevant category.

      You speak about rights and responsibilities, could you explain where these come from, I.E. how we discover we have them and in virtue of what? If the mother is a subject of rights as a human being why do you withhold those same rights from another human being?

      'However, you choose to focus on the development of the zygote, the blastocyst, the fetus, and completely erase the woman from the matter. According to you, she is merely an environment for the fetus.'

      Clinton has demonstrated no such thing in anything he has said.

      'You demonize sexually active women by defining terminating a pregnancy not as preventing a child from being born but killing one. You declare that, by engaging in the act of sex, the woman has relinquished her right to her bodily autonomy and any concern we should have for her. It's clear that your rhetoric about the "innocent child" is the appeal to emotion here, one that panders to misogyny and puritanism.'

      Your point is merely a semantic one, terminating a pregnancy or 'preventing a child from being born' are just euphemisms for killing an unborn human being. It is a way to dehumanise someone so that it is easier to treat them in an unequal or unjust way, that's the power of language. It's why much human injustice has used similar dehumanising ways to refer to those whom are the subjects of injustice and cruelty. Jew's have been called 'pigs', the disabled have been called 'useless eaters' and black/brown people have been called 'subhuman' etc.



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    9. “nothing changes the ontological nature of a human being as it travels down the birth canal,”

      I never said it did. I don't believe that a fertilized egg is a human being, but I believe that a fully developed fetus is a human when its mother is in active labor. The difference between you and me is that I don't claim to know exactly where the fetus acquires its humanity. That's an absolutely arbitrary, unscientific distinction. I simply leave the responsibility up to the parents whether they want a child to be born or not. If the pregnancy is aborted in the first trimester (as the vast majority are), I consider it none of my business.

      “ If the mother is a subject of rights as a human being why do you withhold those same rights from another human being?”

      Because the "other human being" hasn't been born yet. It can't be considered "another" life form at all if it's still developing inside another human being. This is another of the rhetorical tricks that are considered acceptable in this debate, but I deny that we're talking about two equivalent entities here.

      “Clinton has demonstrated no such thing in anything he has said. ”

      Oh please. If I say "It's five degrees Fahrenheit outside," I can't howl with outrage if you tell someone, "Hambre says it's cold outside. That's what my words mean. Similarly, if Clinton mentions the zygote's number of chromosomes and the rights of the "innocent" human being much more often than he acknowledges that the process of gestation is taking place inside a woman's body, he's essentially saying that the woman is unimportant. If you guys talk about aborting a pregnancy as "baby-killing," then you're demonizing sexually active women. If you guys talk about a woman as a "womb," just a "location" or an "environment" for the fetus, then you're dehumanizing the woman. You can't talk about women as places in one breath, and then deny that you're dehumanizing them in the next.

      “It is a way to dehumanise someone so that it is easier to treat them in an unequal or unjust way”

      I'll be honest, I'm much more comfortable "dehumanizing" a person who hasn't even been born yet, who is incapable of feeling pain, who is still developing inside mommy's tummy, rather than dehumanizing an adult female. I'm not comfortable making family planning choices for complete strangers, and forcing women to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against their will. If a woman gets pregnant and wants a baby, that's great. If she doesn't, that should be her decision. Period.

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    10. Yes, the woman has rights and responsibilities, but she also has a responsibility to the child that she had a hand in creating. If she didn't engage in the act of sexual intercourse, there would be no embryo occupying her womb. Moral obligations are not chosen. That's why they're called obligations. So if a woman is a rational agent and has a responsibility to care for a child she creates, then it would actually defy her nature not to hold her responsible for her actions.

      So if she should have the right to do whatever she wants to anything in her body, then let me ask you a couple of questions: Thalidomide was a drug in the 50's and 60's that was found could ease morning sickness in pregnant women. But it was later discovered that this drug was directly responsible for deforming the fetus inside the womb, so it was taken off the market once it was discovered. Suppose a woman decides that her morning sickness is too much, so she acquires some Thalidomide from the black market to take. Does she have the moral right to do this to ease her morning sickness? If yes, then suppose she wanted to take it for the purpose of deforming her fetus (I know this is unlikely, but for the purpose of the thought experiment). Does she have the moral right to do this?

      So no, the woman is not merely an environment for the fetus, and it's dishonest of you to continue to assert this, especially since I explained it to you in my last comment.

      I fail to see a distinction between killing a child and preventing a child from being born. It seems like a distinction without a difference to me. If I were to kill my neighbor on the way to work, I couldn't justify that on the grounds I wasn't killing my neighbor, I was merely preventing him from going to work. Your assertion that I'm resorting to misogyny and puritanism is more emotion rhetoric. I have supported my statements with reasonable arguments. You continually repeating the charge of emotion does not suddenly make it so.

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    11. "So no, the woman is not merely an environment for the fetus, and it's dishonest of you to continue to assert this, especially since I explained it to you in my last comment."

      That's what you keep saying, but it's inescapable when you come up with statements like this *in the next sentence*:

      "I fail to see a distinction between killing a child and preventing a child from being born. It seems like a distinction without a difference to me. "

      You appear to want to establish that a child exists regardless of the fact that it hasn't been born yet, when the very fact, the fact that I've explained several times now, the fact that you keep ignoring because it doesn't have any sort of emotional significance whatsoever to you, that the fetus is still inside the woman's body is the distinction. This is relevant. This is what makes abortion different from baby-killing. This is what leads us to the inescapable conclusion that you can't be bothered with having sympathy for the woman, that you think she deserves to be forced to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against her will, that a sexually active woman inspires nothing but contempt in you.

      I'm repeating myself here, Clinton, so I'm going to stop wasting my time. You have confirmed with your own words every claim I've made. You're indifferent to the rights of women. This is nothing but a moralistic, misogynistic crusade to make sure modern women have to bear the man's child without complaint, just like in the good old days.

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    12. I'm sorry that you can't be trusted to be reasonable in a discussion. I haven't ignored your comments, I've addressed them head-on, and rather than respond you just ignore them and continue to assert claims of "misogyny" and "moralism." If you don't want to continue, that's fine, as I don't think it's worth my time to respond to someone who clearly doesn't read what I write.

      A child is present from fertilization. There is nothing transformative about the act of birth that suddenly bestows "childness" on an individual. And consider that the woman willingly engages in the act of sex, she waives her right to bodily integrity and tacitly consents to the child's presence in her womb. She is responsible for conceiving a child in a naturally needy condition, so she bears a responsibility for caring for that child.

      I have explained it clearly. If you continue to respond and ignore my arguments, asserting more charges of "misogyny" and the like, I will start deleting your comments. I am perfectly willing to have discussions, and to change my position if someone can show me how I'm wrong, but I'm not going to bother if you can't even tell when I'm responding to your comments.

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    13. mrhambre: "You appear to want to establish that a child exists regardless of the fact that it hasn't been born yet, when the very fact, the fact that I've explained several times now, the fact that you keep ignoring because it doesn't have any sort of emotional significance whatsoever to you, that the fetus is still inside the woman's body is the distinction. This is relevant. This is what makes abortion different from baby-killing. "

      I agree that the fact that the fetus is inside the woman's body is morally significant. That's why I'm pro-choice in fact. I wrote a blog post if you are interested on why I think the fact that the fetus is inside the woman is morally significant enough to justify legalized abortion.

      http://restringingtheviolinist.blogspot.ca/2013/12/my-body-my-choice-explaining-bodily.html

      I think where we differ however is that you seem to be arguing (and I may be wrong so correct me if I am) that because the fetus is in the woman's body the fetus isn't human. I don't think that's true. The fetus seems to be human because it has human parents and it is alive because it is growing. You said that the fetus is like a parasite and in a way I think I agree. Parasites are similar to fetuses in three ways: they are alive, they live inside and off of another living body and they belong to a species of living thing. Where parasites differ from fetuses is that human fetuses are part of the human species while worms and other kinds of parasites are not a part of the human species.

      Of course, I don't think the fact that the fetus is a living member of the human species means that abortion is impermissible (I outline my reasons for thinking this in my blog post I linked above).

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