Anti-Abortion Arguments, Including the Secular Ones, are Uninformed Drivel.

Atheism, civil rights, Conceits, culture, Education, ethics, feminism, freethought community, liberalism, philosophy, politics, science 32 Replies

I’ve had something of a writing block for the last month or so, so I’m thankful to Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist for providing me with some fodder to dissect. I’ve always figured that there had to be some folk out there whose anti-abortion stance wasn’t built on a foundation of religion, as the latter simply isn’t logically necessary for the former. Plenty of people hold ignorant and poorly thought-out positions, appeals to god are simply gap fillers: people can also either fill in the gaps with a non-religious non-explanation, or just ignore them.

Such is the case in the guest post by Kristine Kruszelnicki, titled “Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them“. An alternative title would be “I’m unaware of how shallow my arguments are, but here they are anyway”. That is, perhaps, unfair: it’s possible that Kruszelnicki is aware of how shallow these arguments are, but she claims that they are compelling….

I’m going to raise up Judith Jarvis Thompson here, because Thompson is the 800lb gorilla in the room: ignoring the gorilla doesn’t make them go away. I wrote about this some time ago (poorly, I’ll grant), but the bottom line is: if you present arguments that are anti-abortion, then you need to run them past Thompson’s. A failure to do that indicate either ignorance, or a lack of actual interest in your position. Thompson wrote her paper in 1971, so Kruszelnicki is currently 43 years behind the times. She is, to people with a passing knowledge of Philosophy and/or Feminism, unaware of the existence of word processors. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if someone were to make an argument of writing with a pen over a pencil, completely ignoring the existence of the electronic word processor. And yet here we are, publishing someone who, analogously, is unaware of the floppy disk. [You can skip my commentary and go straight to Thompson’s paper via wikipedia if you prefer]

Let that sink in a moment. The sheer ridiculousness of it.

Kruszelnicki has clearly had to deal with a number of uninformed detractors, and that’s unfortunate. Her responses are mainly responses to those completely ridiculous complaints, and are basically at the same level. I’m going to deal with the only real point that Kruszelnicki makes.

Even if the unborn are human beings worthy of personhood even in their earliest stage of development, under normal circumstances, no one has a right to use someone else’s body against their consent.

This is true. And, likewise, under normal circumstances no one should be killed for being too young to care for themselves independently. Unfortunately, pregnancy is completely unlike any normal circumstances or normal human relationship. What happens when both a woman and her developing fetus are regarded as human beings entitled to personhood and bodily rights? Any way you cut it, their rights are always going to conflict (at least until womb transfers become a reality). So what’s the reasonable response? It could start by treating both parties at conflict as if they were equal human beings.

Here, Kruszelnicki evades the question by focusing on the completely irrelevant “under normal circumstances”, and blunders directly into Thompson’s main argument: let’s treat both parties at conflict as if they were equal human beings. Notice that Kruszelnicki stops her point there, whereas it’s a starting point for Thompson. Unlike Kruszelnicki, Thompson wants to consider several scenarios. The first (and here I’m repeating my own summary from the previous link):

A person is in desperate need of [insert medical attention of choice], which is not available (dialysis is an example that fits the argument). They will die without it. The only solution is to connect them to you, for your body to keep them alive, as you are the only medically compatible person available.

Thompson’s argument here is to create an analogy for rape: this was done without your consent. For Kruszelnicki, all children are, apparently, born of consenting adults. But we can upgrade this to an argument about intentional pregnancy:

The strongest possible case (i.e. to make disconnection as objectionable as possible) is:  you consented prior to the tubes being connected to being connected. You are going to be connected for 9 months, and you know (and knew, prior to consent) that some health complications are likely to occur. The person you are connected to is a fully autonomous, intelligent, thinking human being, above the age of majority (of whatever age that may be). They are (to make the extreme case) a genius in their line of work, and it would genuinely be a loss to the world for this person to die ‘prematurely’, so to speak.

Are you ethically compelled to maintain a connection throughout the 9 months? It happens to be the case that there are no alternative people to whom this person can be connected: it’s you, or they die (and their death is guaranteed). Do you have an ethical obligation to remain connected?

Ultimately: no, you do not. Your autonomy includes the right to change your mind. While it is certainly unethical to break a contract, autonomy is a gold-standard, it’s foundational: society may punish you regarding your breach of contract (by refusing to offer you contracts in the future), but society cannot prevent you from breaching a contract here and now. (Clearly, “the government” cannot ethically dictate that you may not become pregnant in the future, and this would be a ridiculous extension to make; but it would be well within the rights of a future partner to decline creating a baby with the woman for whatever reason they chose, including “you had an abortion in the past”)

Let’s entertain the notion that yes, the unborn fetus, has full rights of autonomy: how does that translate into a right to remain in someone’s womb? Sure, the fetus has the right not to be killed, but no-one has the right to someone else’s body: bodily autonomy trumps rights to food and shelter. Moreover, even in the best of cases, being pregnant poses a risk to the life and health of the pregnant person. Even if the person consented to those risks, in the abstract, we are still entirely within our rights to change our minds about what contracts we enter into.

Kruszelnicki repeatedly conflates born children out in the world, and fetuses in a womb, as if these are comparable scenarios: the financial, temporal, and psychological demands of dealing with a child are not the same as the biological, financial, temporal, and psychological demands of pregnancy. To repeatedly conflate these, to use arguments about the former to argue about the latter is to demonstrate a lack of understanding here.

The bottom line: bodily autonomy is absolute. If you are presenting an argument (as Kruszelnicki is, regardless of whether she understands that she is) that ‘bodily autonomy may be violated’, then you absolutely must explain how your arguments do not apply to, we’ll say, someone requiring a transplant from your body. To argue the one but ignore the other is to implicitly argue (intended or otherwise) that ‘bodily autonomy may be violation, so long as we’re talking about women‘.

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32 thoughts on “Anti-Abortion Arguments, Including the Secular Ones, are Uninformed Drivel.

  1. Pingback: Anti-Abortion Arguments, Including the Secular ...

  2. Jeff

    I agree with your overall conclusion, but I’m not sure this argument is effective. It seems to rely on the premise that the parent/child relationship is like other relationships, but this premise is false (at least by accepted societal standards). If you fail to provide food for a hungry stranger, there are no legal consequences. If you fail to provide food for your hungry child, you are guilty of neglect. So why would it be different to say that you are under no obligation to make your body available to a stranger who will die otherwise, but you are obligated to make your body available to your child who will die otherwise. For example, if a mother refuses to breast-feed a month-old infant and the infant dies (in a world before formula was invented, say), we regard that mother as guilty of neglect even though caring for the infant required sacrificing her bodily autonomy (or at least I do). Under other circumstances, we certainly have complete authority over whether or not someone gets to gnaw on our nipples, but the case above seems clearly different. The key point to me is that a fertilized egg (blastocyst, zygote, etc.) is not a person, but the mother is. So the moral position is clear, and it’s pro-choice.

  3. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    So why would it be different to say that you are under no obligation to make your body available to a stranger who will die otherwise, but you are obligated to make your body available to your child who will die otherwise.

    Because a person is under no obligation to make their body available to their child.

    A person is under an obligation to ensure that their child is fed, and there are a variety of ways to make that happen (finding someone else willing to nurse, etc). You are welcome to outline extenuating circumstances under which that person’s choices are limited, but then you are no longer arguing about the general case of pregnancy in the current, real world, and your counter-argument ceases to be relevant.

    Moreover, a person who is pregnant is not in the same situation as a person who has a child that is reliant on them: pregnancy carries with it a series of risks to health that are entirely neglected in your breast-feeding example. Your example is dis-analogous is serious and relevant ways.

    You are, of course, free to argue against the personhood of fetuses (and no, I don’t think that a fetus is an actual person), but it’s an irrelevant side-show that wastes time and energy, and gives people like Kruszelnicki the mistaken sense that there’s an argument to be made here.

    Make the violinist your child/sibling/parent/lost love/whatever you like: you are under no obligation to stay attached to them. No-one has the right to your body.

  4. Jeff

    Maybe. I agree that my example isn’t relevant in the real world – I was just using it to illustrate my point. You probably agree that neglect laws are a good thing, and that a parent’s obligations to his or her child go far beyond the obligations inherent in other relationships. I understand if you think these obligations always lose out to bodily autonomy, but it isn’t obvious that that should be the case. In the fake world where the only possible way for an infant to stay alive is to breast feed, I think a mother would be guilty of neglect if she declined. If fertilized eggs had full human consciousness, this would completely change the moral implications of abortion (for me, at least).

    Another philosophical question with no import in the real world: Should a woman be legally allowed to abort the day before she gives birth? Should she be allowed to kill her newborn the next day? What’s the difference? To be clear, I don’t think this is actually an important societal issue. If women had unlimited abortion rights, I don’t think this would produce any societal harm. A women arbitrarily deciding to abort for no good reason late in her pregnancy just isn’t something that comes up. Let them choose, and it will all be for the best. I’m just probing how far you would go with “no one has a right to your body,” even when that person is your own child (a real child, not a zygote) who will certainly die based on your choice. Raising a kid can be hard on your body (stress can have horrible effects). If someone lives in a place with no social safety net and no one will adopt their children, do they have the right to leave them to die to avoid the harmful effects of stress on their bodies? These aren’t rhetorical questions. A good argument could convince me either way.

  5. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    In the fake world

    Sorry, not interested. When you want to deal with the real world, I’m interested. But these hypothetical irrelevancies tell us nothing, at all, about the real world.

    I also have zero interest in exercises in hair-splitting, which you have mislabeled as a “philosophical question. You appear to be entirely uninterested in the realities of pregnancy, and similarly disinterested in nuance.

    You are arguing that a woman should be required to carry a child to term (or what, be sentenced to prison?), as her only other option is abortion: this is a false dichotomy. At late stages of pregnancy, there are other medical options which would also remove the child from her body that would not necessarily result in the death of the child. Your examples are irrelevant, and are focused on abstract rights (the net result being that you are arguing ‘I’m not going to do any work here, but you need to refute my contention that women should be required to carry a child to term’).

    I am not here to provide you with several semesters-worth of education.

  6. Jeff

    Your post critically relies on a hypothetical situation in which some random other person for some reason has to be hooked to your body and only your body or they will die, but now we are only interested in realistic scenarios. OK. Realistically, both of us are completely pro-choice. Could anyone possibly interpret what I said as “arguing that a woman should be required to carry a child to term”? Did you see the part about how allowing women complete choice is the best alternative in the real world? I said that.

    I thought we might have a discussion about the *reasons* why we hold this view, along with some crazy hypotheticals to explore our reasoning. At first blush, your argument is unconvincing to me. If you aren’t interested in talking about why, then I won’t take up any more of your time.

  7. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    If you aren’t interested in talking about why

    If you would like to present some discussion points as to why Thompson’s argument doesn’t demonstrate that bodily autonomy trumps someone else wanting to use that body, I’m listening.

    You haven’t done anything that resembles that so far. All of your points so far are predicated on you not agreeing that bodily autonomy is absolute. The are not arguments against bodily autonomy being absolute.

    Secondly, I haven’t claimed that I’m interested in “realistic scenarios”. This is a mischaractisation.

    The scenario that Thompson presents is analogous in serious and relevant ways to an unwanted pregnancy. Your scenarios are not.

    You can whinge about that, or you can bring some intellectual rigour to the table. I would welcome you taking the second option rather than the first.

    Could anyone possibly interpret what I said as “arguing that a woman should be required to carry a child to term”? Did you see the part about how allowing women complete choice is the best alternative in the real world? I said that.

    Yes, I agree that you are inconsistent in the points that you have been making.

    Here’s where you argued that a woman should be required to carry a child to term:

    IIf you fail to provide food for your hungry child, you are guilty of neglect. So why would it be different to say that you are under no obligation to make your body available to a stranger who will die otherwise, but you are obligated to make your body available to your child who will die otherwise. For example, if a mother refuses to breast-feed a month-old infant and the infant dies (in a world before formula was invented, say), we regard that mother as guilty of neglect even though caring for the infant required sacrificing her bodily autonomy (or at least I do). Under other circumstances, we certainly have complete authority over whether or not someone gets to gnaw on our nipples, but the case above seems clearly different.

    In the fake world where the only possible way for an infant to stay alive is to breast feed, I think a mother would be guilty of neglect if she declined. If fertilized eggs had full human consciousness, this would completely change the moral implications of abortion (for me, at least).

    Should a woman be legally allowed to abort the day before she gives birth? Should she be allowed to kill her newborn the next day? What’s the difference?

    If you’re not anti-choice, then stop making anti-choice arguments.

    “I’m pro-choice, but here’s an anti-choice statement” functions precisely the same as “I’m not a racist, but here’s a racist statement”: everything after the ‘but’ supercedes everything before the ‘but’.

    Let me illustrate your argument another way: “Should poor people be killed off instead of giving them welfare?” presents the reader with evidence that I could kinda go either way. Likewise your above hypotheticals. You are using “completely pro-choice” in a way that is unfamiliar to me.

    Anywho. I’m out of patience. I’m interested in comments that are on-point, that are relevant to the argument presented, not completely dis-analogous hypotheticals. The former comments will be welcomed, the latter bounced back into moderation. Your call.

  8. Jeff

    Do you just get to say that bodily autonomy is absolute and trumps all other moral principles in all cases? Your hypothetical was supposed to establish that, but doesn’t necessarily if you change it to a parent/child relationship. I haven’t seen you say anything about this point, other than that it doesn’t matter. Why not, when it so clearly makes a critical difference in other scenarios? We clearly aren’t having a discussion, and you clearly don’t take any responsibility for that. You just say I am inconsistent. Is it inconsistent to think about weaknesses in the arguments that support your own opinions? I think I will try to sustain that sort of inconsistency in my own thinking, but you are welcome to your own intellectual standards. The counter-examples I generated to challenge your point that bodily autonomy is the only necessary consideration are indeed unlike realistic pregnancies. That makes them ineffective arguments for limiting abortion rights – which is fine by me since that was never the argument I was trying to make (even though you seem eager to portray me as making it). It does not necessarily make them bad arguments for challenging your assertion that bodily autonomy trumps all other ethical principles in all circumstances. There is a difference between saying that “none of the situations in which bodily autonomy is superseded by other factors actually arise in pregnancies” and saying “bodily autonomy can never be superseded by any other factor in any conceivable scenario.” You seem to be to be claiming the latter as the basis for your pro-choice stance, but you are only interested in defending the former. OK, we should really stop talking to one another. Just consider one possibility: It’s possible that I’m not completely ignorant, and instead I’m just a regular, thinking person that happens to find your arguments unconvincing. Stranger things have happened. It’s your blog, so I’ll leave the last word to you.

  9. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Just consider one possibility: It’s possible that I’m not completely ignorant, and instead I’m just a regular, thinking person that happens to find your arguments unconvincing.

    Just consider one possibility: it’s possible that me saying “the points that you have presented are completely irrelevant” is not the same as “you are an ignorant fool”. Distinguishing between those two things is pretty much the first step in having a serious discussion; otherwise you’re declaring that criticising your points is unacceptable.

    Your hypothetical was supposed to establish that, but doesn’t necessarily if you change it to a parent/child relationship.

    Finally, an assertion that actually intersects with the argument.

    Your next step is to explain how this changes things.

    The scenario: I, a guy, wake up in a room connected by tubes to my child (if you feel it’s relevant, let’s use three age brackets: 6 years old, 16 years old, and 26 years old). I am informed that due to [insert maguffin here], their life is dependent on me staying connected to them, and they will expire shortly after us being disconnected. There are zero alternatives.

    There are a variety of costs to me in doing this, and I will need to stay connected for 9 months.

    Please explain to me why I am not allowed to walk away from this situation. Just asserting “because you are the parent” is a statement of fact, not warrant, and doesn’t explain anything.

  10. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Also, this needs to be split into two cases:

    1) I did not consent to this (I just woke up and found myself this way)

    and

    2) I consented to this, but I have changed my mind and no longer wish to be involved. (there are still zero alternatives for the child)

  11. fishwithfeetFWF

    I left a pretty scalding comment on this post on Hemat’s blog… it was (as I mentioned in my comment) absolutel nonsense… I was/am disappointed that he even allowed something so poorly thought on to be posted on his blog. Not to mention the fact that the title of the blog itself was downright offensive.

  12. Jeff

    Brian: I like your scenario. In this scenario, you should be able to unhook yourself from your child in all cases, and if you do you should be found guilty of neglect. As a result, you should be punished in the same way we punish any other parent that knowingly lets their child die. Those are my current views, at least. This is different than if you unhook from a stranger, in which case nothing should happen. This is why I would feel differently about abortion if there was a fully conscious human being the instant that sperm hit egg. That premise is false, so pro-choice is the moral stance. Unless I am misconstruing your intent, you seem to be saying that abortion regulations should not change even if consciousness began at conception. I disagree; for now, at least.

  13. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    you should be able to unhook yourself from your child in all cases, and if you do you should be found guilty of neglect.

    Why? You haven’t provided a reason for this.

    And to clarify, your position currently looks like this:

    6yo child (mine) 16yo child (mine) 26yo child (mine)
    I consented Obligated Obligated Obligated
    I did not consent Obligated Obligated Obligated
    6yo child (not mine) 16yo child (not mine) 26yo child (not mine)
    I consented Not Obligated Not Obligated Not Obligated
    I did not consent Not Obligated Not Obligated Not Obligated

    (I used http://tableizer.journalistopia.com/ for this)

  14. Jeff

    Why should you be found guilty of neglect if you let your child die when they are in your care? I guess because that is what “neglect” means. I referenced the Child Welfare Information Gateway to make sure I am accurately characterizing current laws. The meat of their definition of neglect is “failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation.” (Notice that it is specific to parents and caretakers, officially recognizing a special status for this relationship). Are you saying that parent’s don’t (or shouldn’t) have an obligation to care for their dependent children (I’m assuming they haven’t passed this obligation on to someone else, as in adoption)? Or are you saying that it is normally the case that parents have this obligation, but this obligation is negated in any situation where the parent’s bodily integrity is compromised?

    If “obligated” means “should be held accountable for neglect as defined by our legal system” in your table, then you have fairly summarized my current view except for projecting parental obligations into adulthood. I have just been applying neglect as commonly understood to your scenario. The same page referenced above from the Child Welfare Information Gateway states that “child” means “a person who is younger than age 18 or who is not an emancipated minor” in the official definition of neglect. Of course a hard cutoff at 18 doesn’t have any special significance, but we have to draw the line somewhere. (Much like the abortion question, where any hard cutoff for becoming a person will be arbitrary, but calling a fertilized egg a person makes as much sense as calling a newborn an adult – something we agree on, of course).

  15. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Why should you be found guilty of neglect if you let your child die when they are in your care?

    You have reframed the question in such a way as to completely ignore the context of the question, and your reframing is not relevant.

    If you’re going to attempt to apply laws to what is a question about ethics (which should be prior to, not derived from, law, then you need to accurately apply it: you need to explain how “remaining biologically linked up as a life support device” is consistent with “being a parent or caretaker”. You’ve simply asserted that *because* there is a biological connection, you’re liable for the well-being of this person.

    I also laid out the age ranges before you declared that I would have obligations in this situation. Please don’t criticise me for clarifying your opaqueness: be clear about what you mean. I’m more than happy to sketch out your position differently, but the responsibility is yours to make your position plain.

    Moreover, you are selectively (i.e. inappropriately) applying the “concept of neglect”. If someone else’s child is placed in your care, you are (by definition) their caretaker. Your reasoning, such that it is, means that it would also apply in the second case: I would be obligated regardless of whether I were the parent of the child.

    If the second case (where we are not related) means that I am not ‘acting in the role of the parent or caretaker’, then you need to explain how I suddenly am ‘acting in the role of the parent or caretaker’, merely by dint of biological relation.

    If “obligated” means “should be held accountable for neglect as defined by our legal system”

    And no, I don’t. I mean ‘ethically obligated’, regardless of whether that obligation has the force of law, or not. Laws are different in different countries, and I have zero interest in debating which country’s laws should take precedence in this situation. This is a Philosophy blog, not a blog about the legal system of a country of which I am neither a resident nor a citizen.

  16. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Also, in case it hasn’t occurred to you, if you believe that the laws pertaining to child neglect apply in this situation, then you believe that those same laws pertain to pregnancy. If you don’t, then you need to explain the (relevant and significant) difference between the two situations.

    If you believe that the two situations are essentially the same (in all relevant and significant details), then it follows that you should also believe that women who have miscarraiges due to not taking sufficient care should be prosecuted under these laws.

    Otherwise, your views are inconsistent (in an important and significant way).

    (NB: I realise that in everyday parlance “inconsistent” is an unimportant thing. In Philosophy, in the way that I’m using this term, it means that your views are necessarily contradictory, and I cannot take any of your arguments seriously until you sort them out because you don’t take them seriously enough to not be at odds with yourself.)

  17. Jeff

    You are correct that ethics are prior to laws. So do you think neglect laws are based on sound ethics, or not? I do. We could talk about why, but I’ve got a hunch that we don’t need to, because you do too.

    “You have reframed the question in such a way as to completely ignore the context of the question, and your reframing is not relevant.” We are now talking about your new scenario, where the only change from the original scenario is that the “donor” is the parental guardian of the recipient, who is a child. You focused on bodily autonomy, and did not consider neglect as a complicating factor. I think it is a complicating factor when we are talking about a child and a guardian (we could get into specifics about what makes one a parental guardian).

    I think I have explained repeatedly why I can hold this view but not apply it to pregnancy. Neglect needs a victim, and that victim must be a child. For much of a pregnancy, there is no child involved and considerations of neglect could not possibly apply. I don’t know exactly when to draw the line for saying that there is a child involved. I think we should err on the liberal side, since late-term abortions for no good reason simply aren’t a real-world problem. I fully trust women to work out the ethics of this situation for themselves without the legal system getting involved.

    In contrast, if you grant a pro-lifer’s premise that pregnancy always involves a child (from day one), then the neglect issue is something you have to at least think about. You could argue that the mother is not the guardian of that child, perhaps. I think you’d have a potential case you could make there, if that’s where you want to go. Is it ethical to give biological parents complete choice over whether they consider themselves the guardian of a child, regardless of what happens to the child as a result? Or is it more ethical to give them that choice ONLY to the extent that they ensure the child has another guardian (an adopted family or a state agency, usually)? Given that the child’s welfare would have to be part of the equation, I would argue that we should have ethical standards that prevent a situation in which children have no caretaker. These would have to be weighed against the parent’s autonomy, of course. If you had an equal chance of being the child or the parent in your “hooked together” scenario, would you want to live in a world with ethical standards that granted complete parental autonomy, or a world with ethical standards that obligate a parent to ensure the well-being of his or her child?

  18. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    I think I have explained repeatedly why I can hold this view but not apply it to pregnancy.

    Only by pre-supposing that the fetus isn’t a person. In other words, you are arguing in poor faith: the point of Thompson’s argument is to say “let’s grant personhood to the fetus by way of this analogy: abortion is still ok”. You have said “ok, let’s grant that. But I think the situations are different because I’m not actually granting the premises on offer.:

    You keep calling yourself a pro-choice, but your “pro-choice” position is contingent on a unprovable assertion: that the fetus is not a person.

    In short, your position is: “I am pro-choice, unless the fetus has personhood. If, at some point in the future, someone could incontrovertible show that a fetus is actually a person, I would be anti-choice”

  19. Jeff

    What does it take to be a person? That’s a hard list to make, but I think anyone’s list should include consciousness. We have no moral obligations to entities that are not conscious. It is not unprovable that a fertilized egg or a blastocyst lacks consciousness (in that we have incredibly strong evidence that consciousness is produced by brains). At some point it gets to be a hard question, but let’s not pretend that the “moment of conception” people are actually making a reasonable case. Do you think a fertilized egg is a person? Do you regard your opinion on this issue as an arbitrary choice, or do you feel like you have good reasons for your view?

    I’m trying to argue in good faith. I am granting personhood along with Thompson, and disagreeing with Thomson’s conclusion that this doesn’t change the abortion issue. I disagreed because Thompson gave an example to illustrate that we shouldn’t be required to donate our bodies to someone, but that example completely ignored parental obligations to their dependent children. Maybe that doesn’t matter. I think it does.

    Your last summary is correct, except that I wouldn’t be anti-choice in the sense of a pervasive ban on abortion. Honestly, I don’t know how I would balance moral obligations to the child and to the mother in that case. But I *would* think that abortion was morally wrong in many cases if it involved killing a person. That is in contrast to my current view, which is that there is nothing morally wrong with abortion as currently practiced.

    So is it your contention that granting the premise that abortion involves killing a person (indeed, a parent killing their dependent child) in no way changes the ethical considerations surrounding abortion?

  20. Ulallala

    Yeah, Kruszelnicki’s argument is a shallow appeal to emotion, and not as devastating as you seem to think. With that said your argument that she needed to address *your* preferred moral conclusion or declare herself stupid… is pretty stupid.

  21. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    What does it take to be a person?

    Irrelevant sideshow.

    but that example completely ignored parental obligations to their dependent children.

    There are no parental obligations to people that you have no relationship with. You are deeply confused on this, and are packing piles of assumptions in to your arguments that you aren’t explaining.

    Being “a parent” is dependent upon an existing relationship between the person and the child. Watch, and you’ll agree, because the issue here is you have made a bunch of assumptions.

    Back to:

    The scenario: I, a guy, wake up in a room connected by tubes to my child (if you feel it’s relevant, let’s use three age brackets: 6 years old, 16 years old, and 26 years old). I am informed that due to [insert maguffin here], their life is dependent on me staying connected to them, and they will expire shortly after us being disconnected. There are zero alternatives.

    There are a variety of costs to me in doing this, and I will need to stay connected for 9 months.

    I’ve never seen the child before in my life. It is genetically my child, but before I woke up, I’ve never seen it. My relationship with this child is precisely the same as the alternative, the child that I’m waking up to that’s not mine.

    Please explain to me why I am not allowed to walk away from this situation. Just asserting “because you are the parent” is a statement of fact, not warrant, and doesn’t explain anything.

  22. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Ulallala:

    not as devastating as you seem to think

    ……………

    I do not consider her argument to be devasatating at all. I find it helps to read the article to which you are responding prior to typing. It helps avoid this kind of nonsense.

    With that said your argument that she needed to address *your* preferred moral conclusion or declare herself stupid… is pretty stupid.

    ………..

    Yes… And people talking about the development of life on this planet without addressing evolution… That’s totally cool too. Pointing out that they have failed to address the leading literature on the topic: totally stupid.

    Look, it’s fine to be uninformed on a topic (as you are): totally cool. But getting snotty with people when you don’t know what you’re talking about? You’re only embarrassing yourself here. Any further comments along this line will simply be removed.

  23. Jeff

    “With that said your argument that she needed to address *your* preferred moral conclusion or declare herself stupid… is pretty stupid.” If you are referring to me, please provide a direct quote from any of my posts that sounds anything like what you have said here. I certainly haven’t called anyone stupid, which I think makes me unique in this thread (OK, Brian might not have used the word “stupid,” but saying I need “several semesters of education” is getting close). Parental responsibilities are not *my* moral concern, but of sufficient concern to the society at large that we make laws to punish parents that fail to meet these responsibilities.

    Brian, I’d like you to defend your claim that personhood is irrelevant. The fact that a practice might involve killing people has no ethical consequences? Please answer this question directly, with a yes or a no (followed by an explanation). Is the issue irrelevant in general, or just for this one issue? If just for this one issue, is the mitigating factor bodily autonomy? If so, why is protecting a person’s bodily autonomy more important than protecting a person’s life? For example, imagine that you decide you want to be unhooked from your child in the scenario you gave. Imagine two societal responses to that. Response 1: You are forced to remain hooked to your child even though you don’t want to. Response 2: You are permitted to unhook yourself, and then you are put to death as punishment for failing to fulfill (what society perceives are) your parental obligations. Which is more unjust? Which would you pick if given the option? If you think number 2 is more unjust, then the death of a person is not just a moral consideration, but a more pressing moral consideration than bodily autonomy.

    Your ideas about the child being a stranger with no relationship to the parent are interesting (I mean that in a good way). But the implication of this would be that we have little or no ethical obligation to ensure that children have a guardian. If no one chooses to be a guardian for a child, then the child should have no guardian. To me, that ethical principle sounds questionable, especially if you are a child. Imagine a situation in which no one wants to be the guardian of a child. Which is the most ethical response: 1) No one should be compelled to care for the child, and it should be left to (probably) die. 2) The biological parents should be compelled to care for the child. 3) Someone should be selected at random and compelled to care for the child, because the biological parents have no special relationship with the child. Imagine there are no governmental agencies to care for the child, to close off that loophole.

  24. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    Brian, I’d like you to defend your claim that personhood is irrelevant.

    I’ve been trying to do that this whole time, but you keep side-tracking the discussion. An exact example of that would be:

    Your ideas about the child being a stranger with no relationship to the parent are interesting (I mean that in a good way). But the implication of this would be that we have little or no ethical obligation to ensure that children have a guardian.

    This is not the question you were asked, and is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. If you’re going to keep doing this, there’s no point having this conversation (because we’re not having a conversation if you keep ignoring the things that I ask).

    So again:

    The scenario: I, a guy, wake up in a room connected by tubes to my child (if you feel it’s relevant, let’s use three age brackets: 6 years old, 16 years old, and 26 years old). I am informed that due to [insert maguffin here], their life is dependent on me staying connected to them, and they will expire shortly after us being disconnected. There are zero alternatives.

    There are a variety of costs to me in doing this, and I will need to stay connected for 9 months.

    I’ve never seen the child before in my life. It is genetically my child, but before I woke up, I’ve never seen it. My relationship with this child is precisely the same as the alternative, the child that I’m waking up to that’s not mine.

    Please explain to me why I am not allowed to walk away from this situation. Just asserting “because you are the parent” is a statement of fact, not warrant, and doesn’t explain anything

  25. Jeff

    Again: In my view, society has a moral imperative to ensure that children have caretakers. Practically, this has to start with biological parents, but they can relieve themselves of this duty *if* they find a suitable alternative caretaker. If this can’t happen (only the father can save the kid by staying hooked up), then the duty remains. Saying “I don’t consider myself to be a parent” is not enough. In your scenario, it is a biological fact that you ARE the parent (and you could verify this if you wished). My stance sacrifices the autonomy of biological parents (a bad thing) to prevent serious harm to children (an even worse thing, in my view). As I stated before, you should be allowed to unhook from your child, and you should be found guilty of neglect. This would be a straightforward application of neglect laws, and considering neglect to be a crime makes the world a much better place (I have to assume you agree with this last statement, since you have made no attempt to argue otherwise).

    This is not really progressing, and I won’t take up much more of your time. Would you indulge me by providing a direct response to one more question? Let’s say that your scenario, exactly as you have described, is going to actually happen. You are going to be one of the people, but you don’t know which. We will flip a coin; heads you are the Dad, tails you are the child (let’s go with the 6-year-old). Before the flip, you get to pick one of two ethical principles that will operate. Principle 1: Parents have no ethical obligations to care for their children if it compromises their bodily autonomy in some way. Principle 2: Parents have an ethical obligation to care for their children that goes far beyond their obligations to random other people, and bodily autonomy does not negate this obligation.

    If you’d say which principle you pick and why, I’d be grateful. I’ll continue to think about the issue (my other tab is a big ethics of abortion article as we speak). I agree that bodily autonomy is a very big concern, just not big enough to wipe out any other concern. In the end, I guess it’s a good thing that there is more than one reason to be pro-choice.

  26. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    As I stated before, you should be allowed to unhook from your child, and you should be found guilty of neglect. This would be a straightforward application of neglect laws, and considering neglect to be a crime makes the world a much better place (I have to assume you agree with this last statement, since you have made no attempt to argue otherwise).

    So your position is that if your child is dying, and you are the only viable organ donor, a refusal to donate your organ (regardless of the chances of you dying from the donation) should result in you going to jail.

    Additionally, should the fetus ever ‘be shown’ to have personhood (which is an insoluble problem, as it’s merely a matter of definition), then women will be required to carry children to term, or face jail.

    Glad we cleared that up. Your consideration of yourself as pro-choice is inaccurate.

    If you’d say which principle you pick and why, I’d be grateful.

    I’m happy to provide direct answers, unlike yourself: I pick neither of these principles, because they are both ridiculous.

    1) Obligations to care for children do not “go away” when bodily autonomy is challenged. The right to bodily autonomy is absolute. Your failure to recognise the repercussions of this (forced organ/blood/sperm/ovum donation) is a problem you will need to address at some point.

    2) An obligation to care for a child is born out of the history of care that one has already provided. This is why sperm donors (and surrogate mothers) are not ethically responsible for the children that result from their participation of the biological process. If there is no history of care, then there is no obligation to continue that care.

    3) Moreover, this ‘history of care’ is what puts the obligation to care for a child on the shoulders of an adoptive parent.

    In short: biological ties are neither necessary nor sufficient to claim that someone has an obligation to care for someone. Your insistence on dragging in irrelevant concerns (such as American law (which, holy shit, let’s absolutely not use to set standards in ethics, thank you very much)) is indicative of the depth to which you’re going into this topic: not very much at all.

    Your complaint regarding my comment about ‘several semesters of school': this was not a comment regarding your intelligence. I have no means of gauging your intelligence. Your knowledge of this topic, however, ethical frameworks, and how to critically engage in a topic are all things I can gauge from this exchange. I would encourage you to read up on these things, rather than just waffle on about things of which you have very little knowledge.

  27. Jeff

    Assume you have more knowledge than me, if you like. I don’t know how we would measure that either. Thanks for trying to respond to my question, although you couldn’t bring yourself to pick the option that “bodily autonomy is absolute” clearly implies. I hope you continue to read/think about the issue as well.

  28. K

    I think this is acutally a temporary problem. Unlike anti-choicers like to pretend, the aim of abortion is not to kill the fetus but to terminate the pregnancy. The death of the fetus is only a by-product. If there were a reasonably alternative for terminating, the mother could be asked to act as minimal samaritan, but at present, there is none.
    Now, as soon as medical science will be able to have 6-week fetuses survive outside the mother e.g. by transferring them to a surrogate mother’s uterus, the whole issue around abortion will become obsolete. However, I have doubts whether the women picketing outide clinics providing comprehensive ob-gyn care will go on to queue up for serving as incubators for these fetuses as commitedly as they camped there for picketing…

  29. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    K: I completely agree. If there were a medical option that were no more intrusive than current abortion proceedings, but left the fetus to the state to deal with (with no legal obligations placed on the people who choose this option), then I suspect we’d see a large move from women seeking abortions to women seeking this new procedure.

    I completely agree that anti-choicers keep conflating “I want this out of my body” with “I want this thing to be dead and out of my body”. It’s entirely possible that there are some people who feel the latter, but to simply assume that that is the primary motivation of all is just bullshit.

  30. Plarry

    Thank you for your post, as I was unaware of Thompson’s article. In looking through it, and your summary of it, it seems to me that the argument hinges on the notion that “autonomy is absolute.” And yet, there are many arguments that can be made that autonomy is not absolute. For example, many countries practice or have practiced conscription, in which the state supercedes autonomy. So, it seems to me, that an argument that could be made would be something like, “The state has the authority to conscript you to support the violinist, just as it has the just authority to conscript you to go to war.” This argument assumes that the state has just authority to conscript, and we could debate that, but it has been defended by various thinkers for a long time. How have defenders of Thompson responded to that, do you know? By simply rejecting that conscription is a valid exercise of state power?

    Regards and sorry for being late to the discussion.

  31. Brian Lynchehaun Post author

    You’re confusing “can” with “being ethically justified”.

    Yes, the state “can” conscript people: this isn’t an argue about what the state “can” or cannot do. The state, however, is not ethically justified in conscripting people, as it’s a violation of many rights (not merely bodily autonomy). There are a number of entries that touch on this topic in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=conscription.

  32. Pingback: An atheist can be pro-life only by lying about the science

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