Choose Wisely

I mentioned Human Rights the other day, and I wanted to talk about that again, to mention something that ought to be obvious but doesn’t appear to be.  Abortion is a fundamental failure to defend human rights.  If you want abortion, you don’t want human rights.  You can’t have both.  By all means choose, but choose carefully.

Abortion is predicated on the judgment that the embryo/fetus has no fundamental right to life.  On what grounds is that judgment made, though?  It’s human because it has human genetic material (and no other).  It’s alive because it can do things like grow.  So it’s a living human with no right to life, why?

There are various arguments made.  The first and most common is that it’s a contingent human life, and so it has only contingent rights.  Since it depends entirely upon another, its rights exist only so long as that other chooses to support it.  Unfortunately this standard is too broad; it could be applied in ways that even most abortion advocates would find repugnant.  Most obviously, newborn babies are still contingent beings–they can’t take care of themselves at all–but most people object to infanticide when it’s so obvious.  (Not everyone, unfortunately, but more on that another time.)

Actually, without a clear delineation of what qualifies as contingency, it’s not immediately apparent that anyone claimed as a dependent on taxes, anyone who receives government aid, most teenagers, and a sizable minority of senior citizens wouldn’t be subject to the same contingency clause.  If we support them because they aren’t currently able to support themselves, do we have the right to kill them if we no longer want to support them?

Obviously not, so perhaps we’re talking about a kind of radical physical dependency: embryos are radically physically dependent on their mother’s support for survival, so do mothers have the right to withdraw that support?  Unfortunately this still wouldn’t help us.  In fact in most cases any similar withdrawal of necessary support is considered abuse.  It’s the reality behind such horrors as neglect in nursing homes and hospitals, the neglect of children, even the neglect of pets.  (Why yes, we do have laws to protect pets but not babies.)

The contingency argument underlies the bulk of “pro-choice” material, including the rather misleading name “pro-choice.”  Since the baby’s life is dependent upon the woman’s body, and the woman ought to have the right to do with her body as she pleases, the baby’s life should be the choice of the mother.  Its life is contingent upon her, so its rights are contingent upon her.   The contingency argument doesn’t hold in any other case though, so it doesn’t appear to be very strong.

(It’s also largely self-defeating.  The smaller and weaker half of the species is simply never going to be best served by undermining protections on the small and weak.  I don’t say this to be horrifying, merely objective.  Objectively, the contingency argument for abortion is horrifying.)

There are other arguments, of course.  The next most popular, (although it’s gaining in popularity), is that unborn babies are less than human in one way or another, and therefore have less than human rights.

Sadly I’m out of time.  More on that tomorrow, perhaps.

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6 thoughts on “Choose Wisely

  1. So it’s a living human with no right to life, why?

    Because it isn’t born yet. Thus, it is a fetus and fetuses are not members of society.

    Unfortunately this standard is too broad;

    No actual they standard fits just fine. What I choose to do with my organs is my business, and not yours.

    (Why yes, we do have laws to protect pets but not babies.)

    Wow the usual false equivalence fetus=baby along with a extra side of absurd comparison. Do you really need to be told how a fetus is different than a puppy?

    mothers have the right to withdraw that support?

    When it is use of her organs it is only via her consent. Given that women have bodily autonomy and human rights they can withdraw their consent at anytime to their body being used by another.

    The contingency argument doesn’t hold in any other case though,

    You have not illustrated this and lack of strength you deduce is concomitant with your lack of a charitable appraisal of the arguments against forced birth. In other words, way to argue against a weak version of your opponents argument.

    The smaller and weaker half of the species is simply never going to be best served by undermining protections on the small and weak.

    So denuding women of their right to bodily autonomy is actually good for them – because BABIES.

    Objectively, the contingency argument for abortion is horrifying.)

    Your misuse of the word objectively is bit on the horrendous side, considering this piece is,at best, opinion.

    What is horrifying is the idea that you would take women’s rights away and force them to give birth against their wishes.

    • Hello!

      First, thank you for your comment. It takes a lot both to read through an opinion with which you disagree, and then to respond to it. It’s far easier either to ignore those who disagree with us, or to leave them unaddressed. Thank you for not doing either. 🙂

      Second, not to belittle what you’ve said in any way–and you’ll see that I’m happy to respond as rationally as I’m able–it seems that you write with a lot of anger. Anger is not infrequently a response to pain of one sort or another. So, if you’re angry because you’re hurting, either from personal involvement in this issue or perhaps from involvement in some related issue, I’m sorry if my post added to that. I’m also sorry if my response makes matters worse. Pain is not my intent.

      In my responses below, I’ve tried to follow your example by including that to which I’m responding. (For clarity, I also included that to which you responded.)

      Me: “So it’s a living human with no right to life, why?
      You: “Because it isn’t born yet. Thus, it is a fetus and fetuses are not members of society.”

      In this particular form, this is circular.

      It simply isn’t meaningful to say that fetuses aren’t members of society because they haven’t been born yet, because not being born is what makes them fetuses. It’s just saying that fetuses aren’t members of society because they’re fetuses, who aren’t members of society because they’re fetuses, who aren’t members of society because they’re fetuses….

      The entire point of the question was to ask why a fetus shouldn’t have the sorts of rights we would grant to members of society, why a fetus shouldn’t count as a member of society. Merely saying that they aren’t members of society is avoiding the issue.

      Another important question, and one I’ll discuss more some other time, is why birth should be the point of membership. It’s an obvious but arbitrary boundary. Why not choose some other equally obvious (but equally arbitrary) boundary, if that’s what we’re doing? Why not conception? Why not the age of 21? If we don’t provide a rationale for the boundary we choose, and if that rationale is not persuasively superior than the rationale for other boundaries, we’re basically deciding on convenience, in which case God help us if we ourselves should ever become inconvenient for someone with the power to decide over us.

      Me: “Unfortunately this standard is too broad;”
      You: “No actual they standard fits just fine.

      I’m glad the current standard fits you, but that doesn’t make it a good standard. The standard of corruption seems to fit politicians (at least stereotypically), but people still complain about politicians. The important thing is to provide reasons for why the standard fits. I have, perhaps ineffectively, provided reasons why I think it doesn’t fit. Unilateral declarations on your part are largely unhelpful.

      You: “What I choose to do with my organs is my business, and not yours.”

      I assume by this you mean the organs of your body offered in support of the fetus and birth of the baby, since the fetus is manifestly not one of your organs.

      That’s actually the critical part of the business. The fetus is not one of your organs. It is a biologically distinct thing. We’re asking whether that biologically distinct thing has rights.

      Of course you have rights–you can to do as you please–but only so far. I have the right to do many things with my feet, because they are my feet, but I do not have the right to kick my daughter, or my wife, or perfect strangers. My rights end where someone else’s begin.

      If the fetus has rights, then your rights have a terminal where they meet the rights of that fetus. You can’t assert the particular right over your own body that is abortion without assuming that the fetus has no rights over its own body (specifically the right not to be killed). Unfortunately, whether that fetus has rights is exactly the topic of discussion. Rights you can only have if the fetus has no rights cannot be offered as evidence that the fetus has no rights. That would be circular again.

      Me: “(Why yes, we do have laws to protect pets but not babies.)”
      You: “Wow the usual false equivalence fetus=baby along with a extra side of absurd comparison. Do you really need to be told how a fetus is different than a puppy?”

      I’m a bit confused how to respond to this, because I’m not sure whether you don’t understand false equivalence, don’t understand biology, or are just using exaggerated rhetoric.

      The relevant similarities between a fetus and the baby it becomes are so numerous and obvious as to make the statement barely an equivalence at all. It’s more of an identity statement. That is to say, it’s less “a = b” and more “a = a.”

      In contrast, to declare the switch a false equivalence, you would need to provide any sort of evidence that the event of birth fundamentally alters the creature being born, that it is somehow significantly different before that event than it is after that event. So far you have offered none. Perhaps you’re operating under a false distinction.

      As for the puppy business, it was an a fortiori argument, not a comparison. I suppose those are somewhat archaic, but they actually rely upon an awareness of the difference between the subjects. Fetuses are different than puppies by virtue (among other things) of being more important than puppies. Thus, if we have laws protecting puppies, it should be even more obvious that we should have laws protecting fetuses.

      Me: “…mothers have the right to withdraw that support?”
      You: “When it is use of her organs it is only via her consent. Given that women have bodily autonomy and human rights they can withdraw their consent at anytime to their body being used by another.”

      There are two obvious objections to this. First and most obviously, it’s circular again. You’re assuming the absence of rights to limit your own, when in every other situation (as I discuss in this post), the right to withdraw consent is limited when that withdrawal would jeopardize the rights of another. That is to say that society generally maintains that I have no right to withdraw support from those who are dependant on me, regardless of whether that support adversely affects me, and regardless of whether I chose the responsibility.

      Simply put, no one has the autonomous right to deprive another of life. You could only have that right if you could show that the other in question has no rights. Thus, you cannot assert your autonomous right as evidence that the other has no rights, because it would involve assuming what you’re trying to prove.

      The other (and largely unpopular) objection would be to say that the woman in question most likely gave her consent by choosing to have sex, in the same way that the man tacitly consented to support the child via the same action. She is pregnant precisely by her own consent, not contrary to it. She may not have intended it, but consent and intent are different things. (This is why people sign consent forms, not intent forms. We consent even to the unintended, and must then deal with it when it arises. Abortion is too frequently an attempt to avoid the consequences of our choices, choices which we did not take seriously enough at the time.)

      Me: “The contingency argument doesn’t hold in any other case though,”
      You: “You have not illustrated this and lack of strength you deduce is concomitant with your lack of a charitable appraisal of the arguments against forced birth. In other words, way to argue against a weak version of your opponents argument.”

      It’s an interesting bit of rhetoric: “forced birth.” Entirely unjustifiable and deliberately misleading, but interesting.

      Actually, you ought to find it as offensive as I do, as though women were being lined up in a factory, impregnated against their will, and then forced through to delivery in some sort of monstrous assembly line of torture and inhumanity. What utter garbage. Pregnancy and abortion are matters to take seriously. But parading around such melodramatic and self-pitying lies isn’t taking them seriously. It’s just ignorant whining to justify whatever evil thing someone currently wants. It’s a refusal to take pregnancy and abortion seriously. It’s a refusal to take women seriously. It’s base demagoguery and exploitation, trying to trick women into feeling strongly about something so they won’t ever think about it.

      The problem with irrationally demanding “rights” using such utter nonsense as “forced birth” is that it’s the behavior of petulant children. When people throw around rhetoric like this, or talk about how pro-life people “hate women” and “don’t want women to have rights,” they’re acting like people who can’t be trusted, can’t be respected, and are almost pitiably ignorant and immature. It isn’t a credit to them. It isn’t a credit to their position.

      Either way, I did illustrate my point and my appraisals of my opponents were entirely charitable. You haven’t argued against either, merely complained.

      Me: “The smaller and weaker half of the species is simply never going to be best served by undermining protections on the small and weak.”
      You: “So denuding women of their right to bodily autonomy is actually good for them – because BABIES.”

      As I’ve said before, freedom has natural limits. My point her is that abortion jeopardizes limits from which women currently benefit. It is perhaps necessary to step back a little bit to see it, but yes, absolutely, limited freedom benefits even those upon whom the limit is imposed. For example, I don’t have the freedom to punch strangers, but then, strangers don’t have the freedom to punch me.

      The freedom here limited is the freedom to impose our will on those who cannot stop us, on those who are dependent upon us, on those who would be helpless against us should we become adversaries. It’s the same limit that protects the immature from the mature, the sick from the healthy, the small from the large, the weak from the strong.

      That limit would (unless some evidence is provided to the contrary) seem to protect the unborn from those who bear them. It’s difficult to argue against the limit while preserving it in other venues. It ought to be obvious though that women benefit from the limit significantly more than they are hampered by it. They undermine it at their own peril.

      Trying to spin it as taking away rights is meaningless, because the bigger and stronger half of the species could just as easily decide that its rights have been taken away. Men could say that they have the right to bodily autonomy, to do whatever they have the power to do, and also to deny the rights of anyone else if that other’s rights were inconvenient.

      It isn’t exclusively about babies. It isn’t even primarily about babies. It’s about the appropriate use of power.

      Me: “Objectively, the contingency argument for abortion is horrifying.)”
      You: “Your misuse of the word objectively is bit on the horrendous side, considering this piece is,at best, opinion. What is horrifying is the idea that you would take women’s rights away and force them to give birth against their wishes.”

      Perhaps you’re not persuaded by my arguments, but dismissing them as though they weren’t there doesn’t make them vanish. I think I’ve also shown that you have provided no arguments of your own, so that I’m justified in saying that your argument wasn’t there.

      Also, perhaps I’ve shown that your rhetoric is misleading and unhelpful.

  2. This response is directed more toward The Arbourist, and less the Usualfool.

    Ms. Arbourist — you seem hurt and angry. I’m sorry for that, and for whatever circumstance has led you to be so strongly pro-choice that anger saturates your words this deeply.

    But here is what I would ask you: Do you value your own life and your own contribution to society so little that you believe the world would be no different had your own mother aborted you?

    I’m not skilled in logic and rhetoric like the Usualfool. But I do truly believe God creates every person for a reason. Now, I imagine you don’t share my belief in God, but that’s not the topic I’m trying to pursue.

    I’ve had 2 children. Both pregnancies were demanding on my body (I had a 10lb 12 oz baby naturally–I’m no pansie). Both left their physical marks. I can imagine how hard and scary it would be to go through that without a support system, which is why most women choose abortion. But now, months after giving birth, I’m fine and I don’t actually have pain memories. I never think of the discomfort or trauma of the labor. So I don’t understand why a woman would not give a created fetus (to avoid the term “life” that you seem not to like) a chance. Why is a years worth of time in the grand scheme of life not worth it to allow the fetus the chance to be adopted and very possibly leave his/her mark on our world?

  3. Ms. Arbourist-
    Your response makes me sad. Not because I’m insulted–I know I’m not so stupid as you paint me, and that’s good enough for me. But because I can see how truly selfish you are. There is no amount of debate I can do, or I wish to do with you, that will change that.

    I know that anything I say would fall on deaf ears based on your comment about God “killing” implanted embryos. There is a big difference between death by natural causes and death caused by a human actively manipulating circumstances. It’s obvious that you don’t believe in the idea of self-sacrifice in any regard, for any reason, ever at all. You see, the God I believe in is one who completely sacrificed Himself for humanity. So, we’re on two completely different wavelengths, and our discussion will get nowhere. I believe it’s perfectly reasonable for a woman to sacrifice her body because I know the One who sacrificed for me.

    I imagine this will lead you to go on a tirade about all the atrocities in the world and why doesn’t God stop them if He loves us so much. So, in anticipation of that, I’d ask you to inform yourself. You don’t know the God I’m talking about; you assume you do and you can throw around all sorts of angry evidence about his non-existence or about his existence as some kind of evil cosmic dictator. But you simply don’t know as much as you think you do. If you’d like to engage further, read Epic of Eden, by Dr. Sandra Richter. She’s one of the smartest women I know, Harvard grad, tough as nails. Or, The Sacred Romance by John Eldridge. Richter is good for the head, Eldridge for the heart. Then comment on God’s character.

    I suspect you won’t bother to read. It’s much easier to remain entrenched in one’s own opinions.

    Until then.

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