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Monday, January 20, 2014

An Examination of "20 Arguments Against Abortion," Part II

In my last article, I responded to blogger Bob Seidensticker's first part of his response to certain pro-life arguments. You can find part one here. I now present part two, the original of which you can find here.

Argument #6: What's the big deal about traveling down the birth canal?

This is not presented so much as an argument as it is a response to the argument that human value is established at birth. But now, Seidensticker's view of parenthood is just silly and hardly worth mentioning (his claim is that the mother is, apparently, unnecessary). I can never wrap my head around the claim that because the unborn child is a burden to one, she may dispose of him as she wishes. But when the child becomes a burden to many, we can't kill him. According to this view, you are more valuable the more of a burden you are.

The reality is that there's nothing mystical about birth that transforms you from a non-valuable non-human entity to a valuable human being. Now it's true that before birth, you are completely dependent on your mother for survival, but this doesn't seem to be the tack that Seidensticker takes (using the much weaker argument that you can be killed because only the mother can take care of you). So the only reason this is a big deal is because you are no longer dependent on the woman's body for survival, but being dependent on someone does not make you less valuable -- in fact, it seems to increase someone's obligation to help as there's no one else who can. Consider an analogy I've picked up from Justice for All's David Lee:

Suppose you are the last out of a public pool. You are drying off but you suddenly hear a splash at the deep end of the pool. You investigate and realize that a child has fallen in and is now drowning. You look around and no one else is there. The child is literally dependent on only you for his survival. Do you have an obligation to jump in and save the child? According to Seidensticker, in fact, you would not have that obligation because if someone is dependent on only one person for survival, you have no obligation to help that person. But this is clearly absurd. It seems patently obvious that you have an obligation to save that child.

I have also dealt with bodily rights arguments elsewhere.

Argument #7: It's a human from conception to adulthood.

Seidensticker continues to be confused regarding the difference between "human" and "person." Since he wants to involve himself in the abortion debate, it would behoove him to read some of the literature on abortion. There is a difference between "human" and "person." When someone says "human," they usually mean in a genetic sense (in other words, you are biologically a member of the species Homo sapiens). A "person" means that an entity is valuable in a morally relevent sense, and has certain obligations and duties, as well as certain rights like a right to life. This is usually what is meant by the term "person." Sometimes you'll see someone make a distinction between "human" in a genetic sense (biological humanity) and "human" in a morally relevant sense (personhood), but it is usually clear what the person means by the context. In philosophy it's important to be as clear as possible. As my friend Tim Brahm says, "clarity is our friend."

So really, no one but Seidensticker is confused by these two terms. It is not a way to confuse the issue; in fact, it's a way to clarify the issue. No one argues what the unborn organism is -- pro-choice philosophers and embryologists consistently agree that from fertilization, the unborn entity is a human being biologically. Where the debate lies is in whether or not that entity is valuable, a person -- whether or not it's the kind of entity we have a right to kill.

Seidensticker keeps talking about whether or not the unborn is a baby. But that's irrelevant, because no pro-life person makes the argument that abortion is wrong because it kills a baby (though many pro-life people do use the term "baby" to add emotion to the argument). Pro-life people argue that the unborn are innocent human persons, and it's wrong to kill innocent human persons. So Seidensticker is just attacking a strawman here.

Seidensticker continues to confuse passive potentiality with active potentiality. And he's completely off base when he says that a lustful thought in someone's head has the potential to make a baby -- it has the potential to cause him to act in a way that will create a baby, namely, having sex. But the thought itself is not a potential baby.

Finally, his discussion about getting misty-eyed at humans but not bananas or slugs is just silly. I would imagine that Seidensticker would be sad if one of his family members died, yet he would not be sad if someone stepped on his banana or killed a slug. This doesn't prove anything.

Argument #8: What if the mother wanted to abort because the fetus was female or gay?

This may be a red herring when it comes to whether or not abortion is moral or immoral, but it is a valuable question to ask to gain common ground with pro-choice people. Polling data has suggested that the majority of Americans (86%) believe that sex-selection abortions are immoral and should be illegal. So this helps build common ground because we can ask, if someone shouldn't abort an unborn child because she's the wrong gender, why should they be able to abort for other reasons? In fact, even philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson (who formulated the famous violinist thought experiment) concedes that the logical implications of her view are that while some abortions may be indecent, it should be legal for her to abort for those indecent reasons.

Seidensticker claims that women have "noble instincts" to help them decide the right or wrong thing to do in these situations, but that's just a question-begging response. If abortion is immoral, then her instincts leading her to this decision should not be respected (any more than a mother whose instincts lead her to kill her toddler should not be respected). Seidensticker loves to throw around terms like "null hypothesis" to attempt to bolster his case, but he's still way off-target. The "null hypothesis" is not "you are a good mother." In fact, we start off married couples by giving them counseling, and we offer counseling for parents. The "default position" (if you must speak in those terms) is that this is something of utmost importance that you have no experience with, so you should look to experienced people to help you through these situations.

Argument #9: Abortions are dangerous!

Seidensticker asserts that abortions are not dangerous, but this is simply a false claim. He can quote statistics all he likes, but the reality is that if abortion is safer than childbirth, it is only marginally safer, since less than 1% of pregnant women die through pregnancy-related illness or childbirth. Plus, no pregnant woman has to die in childbirth. Alan Guttmacher ("Abortion -- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow," in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press)), in 1967 (a full six years before Roe v. Wade) even admitted: "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life."

Conversely, abortion is a generally blind procedure (though ultrasound technology helps with this a little bit). In fact, abortionist Warren Hern, in his abortion textbook Abortion Practice (Philadelphia: J Lippincott, 1990, pp. 103-104), quoted another abortionist, William Rashbaum, as saying: "After I had done 1000 [abortions], I thought I was an expert, but by the time I had done 5000, I realized I was learning a lot. At this point, having done somewhere around 12,000 procedures, I'm beginning to think I'm reasonably competent."

These abortion figures are misleading for a number of reasons. First, abortion figures are not accurately reported. Second, even with the figures that are reported, abortion-related deaths are often counted in pregnancy-related deaths, skewing the totals. Third, there are many complications that can arise from an earlier abortion that affects a later pregnancy, and if this leads to the woman's death, then it will be counted as a pregnancy-related death, not an abortion-related death. So numbers about the "safe" procedure of abortion are simply incorrect and misleading. In fact, the 14% "safer" statistic that Seidensticker quotes is just dead wrong. More on that here.

But even if abortions were safer than childbirth, that would not mean that it was absolutely wrong, as there are other dangerous things that should be kept legal (such as skydiving). Abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. But if pro-choice people really do care about women's health, they should start being more honest about the dangers inherent in the procedure.

Argument #10: Future of value.

Another good argument that Seidensticker misrepresents and attacks a strawman version of. For an exposition of Marquis' Future of Value argument, see this link. How does Seidensticker respond?

He refers to Glenn Peoples who made a similar argument because, apparently, this means that Peoples has no other argument for the pro-life position. This is really just a silly thing to say. The Future of Value argument is defended by pro-life philosophers, and pro-choice philosophers consider it to be a powerful argument against abortion, properly understood.

The reason we focus on the future is because one of the things that makes it seriously wrong to kill me is that you are robbing me of all of my future experiences. This is why people grieve more when children die than when adults die, because they had more of their lives ahead of them. We can take that even further and say that abortion is more of a tragedy and a heinous crime because you're robbing them of even more of their future. This is one reason why it's wrong to kill the unborn.

Seidensticker's argument about cells having a "future like mine" is also misguided, since skin cells are not human beings. Skin cells do not have a future of value.

So far, we've examined ten arguments, ten of Seidensticker's responses, and found his arguments completely lacking. In my next part, I'll examine five more of his responses.

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