Monday, October 22, 2012

Abortion debate.

Ok, so the abortion debate is up now.

Before reading any of my thoughts here, I suggest listing, otherwise a lot of this won't make any sense.

In most debates one realizes after it there were ways in which they could have responded or things that should have been said that were not.  This is even more true when the debate topic is complex and the discussion time is short.  So I am writing out my thoughts on the debate a few days after it, I will save this and post it after the debate has been put up because otherwise it would be unfair to both my readers and to Vocab.

So during the debate several things were brought up I want to comment on.

First, Vocab's use of what I think may rightfully be called a deepity.  He says that someone's rights should not change simply because their location has changed.  First off, it is a gross oversimplification of the issue to refer to the woman's uterus as just another location.  It's as if he saying, "I'm at the store", or "I'm in my home" or "I'm in a woman's uterus" are logically indistinct.  I'm sure there are some women out there who would be willing to point out that they are very different.

In addition to this, Vocab calls abortion murder as part of the same argument.  The problem is that he seems to be treating all killing as equal, but most rational people already admit that there are valid contexts in which we can kill another human being.  If I run out onto the street and shoot a random stranger I'll be charged with murder, but if that same stranger breaks into my house and I shoot him people think I'm a hero who defended his home from an intruder.  Odd that one of the main differences in these two scenarios is the other persons location, and another is the question of permission.  Context matters, and the pro-life groups seem to want to selectively pretend it doesn't.

My argument is that even if you treat a fetus as a human (Which I'll address this in a bit) the context of pregnancy justifies the abortion, now if one wants to argue that this particular context does not justify said action we can have that discussion, but this was not the argument Vocab made as far as I can tell, and would require him credit the issue with being more complex than most pro-lifers like to admit.  He seemed to be making a blanket statement that context doesn't matter at all when you kill another human being. This seemed bizarre to me, since I can think plenty of contexts in which society would say that killing a person is justified and therefore not actually murder.  I suppose it would be consistent if he takes the absolute position of a pacifist, but he never alluded to that and it would my first time meeting and evangelical who was also a pacifist.

Next, I tried to structure my own argument to avoid biology as much as possible.  One because biology is complex and can't really be adequately addressed in 45 minutes, but mainly because neither I nor Vocab are biologists and any thing either one of us say is going to sound the least bit intelligent to actual biologists. 

Of course he was determined to bring this topic up since it is basically the main argument the pro life stance has that isn't mired in religious dogma.  I think he believed he scored a major victory in this arena, but he seemed to do it by speaking about one thing in embryology and then stopping at that because it seemed to support his argument and ignoring the rest of the science.   Of course the point he brings up is that the fetus has DNA unique to either one of the parents.  Of course I was not going to be able to lay out the actual complexities of fetal development in five minutes and he seemed to treat that as a victory, which is because short sound bytes work better than evidence in debates quite often.

As an example there is a debate about whether or not a fetus is even conscience until the point of actual birth.  Many seem to think that the oxygenation level in the brain of the fetus is too low to support conscience thought in utero.  Any movements made by the fetus are easily attributable to autonomic responses, and as it has never been conscious the fetus can't possibly feel pain.  Also as a being that has never been conscious it is difficult to refer to them as alive.  Of course this may get into the rather hairy question of defining what consciousness (and what life) is, but neuroscience has certainly give us more insight into this question than religion ever did.

Further, studies have found that the neurological connections needed to be conscious or feel pain are not present until after 24 weeks.

One thing I brought up at the end was the need for a more reasonable approach, and that making abortion illegal would do little to stop abortions from happening.  That being the case I presented a case for several things which have actually been shown to lower the number of abortions (wider access to birth control, and better sex education for teens) and mentioned that I support those things and would certainly have no problem with the number of abortions going down, and that I thought it was odd that so many fundamentalists oppose those things given their proven effect. 

I felt he pretty much dodged the question entirely by just basically reiterating that he thinks abortion is wrong and failing to address my point at all.  The best way of putting it, which of course I didn't think of at the time, was if the pro life groups got exactly what they wanted and abortions were totally illegal would this stop abortions?  No, in fact, statistics show that the numbers don't seem to change much.  Further, evangelicals have more recently been taking a strong stance against birth control as well, which will almost certainly increase abortions even with them illegal.  So is that it? Make abortion illegal and then pat yourself on the back and go home?  If your main goal is to decrease abortions why not do something that will actually do that, irregardless of the legality of the abortions?  I don't consider it my main goal to decrease the number of abortions but that number decreasing would not bother me if it was done in a way that respected women's rights and intelligently engaged the topic of sexuality.

Understand while I'm not accusing Vocab of this, my hypothesis is that evangelical's antagonism towards both abortion and contraception is part of a bigger issue.  They want everyone to act in accordance with the sexual values of their religion (even though statistically most of them don't measure up to those either) and they think by preventing access to anything that might negate the real world consequences to sexual behavior will push people to have less sex.  Mind you, they think this despite evidence that access to birth control and abortion does little to change the sexual behavior of the average person.  Oddly enough this ends up creating a situation where children are seen as one of the punishments for "immoral" actions like premarital sex, which is not exactly pro family.


  1. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for participating in this debate. It was very interesting to hear your viewpoint on a Pro-Choice position.

    I was confused by a part of your argument and wondered if you could help clarify?

    During the middle of the debate you seemed to explain that your position is if a woman says 'I don't want to be pregnant' (clarified as 'pregnant anymore'), the State doesn't have a right to say you don't have a choice in that matter. This seems to be consistent with your opening and closing statements.

    However, when then asked if a woman should be allowed to have an abortion in the last week of pregnancy if she so desires you then defaulted to what the State says by saying "I'm going with what the law has already promoted" and said "Of course we have to draw lines" and that you see it as reasonable to draw the line "Where the State has drawn the line."

    So, the State has no say in the matter, but later they do? Would you help me understand how this is a consistent argument? If you are going to take the position that the State has no say in the matter (no law), then why are you advocating for a line (law)?

    Lastly, I understand where you are coming from with regards to birth control and sex education as an effective means for reducing abortions. How about adoption? Would you advocate for adoption?

    Thank you,

  2. Hmm... A couple of things. One, the law, at least as I see it, is considering viability when drawing the line on abortion. Perhaps this is a bad way to draw the line, but there are several reasons why I'm not really worried about late term abortions as was brought up during the debate. Thanks for asking, because it was something I was unable to clarify in the debate due to time constraints.

    1. There isn't really a demand for them. If we are talking about voluntary abortion and not ones done for medical reasons, since even most pro-life advocates still allow for abortion for medical reasons or rape. Realistically how many women do you expect to find who are 30 weeks into a pregnancy and haven't made up their mind if they want to have a baby? There is a reason 90% of voluntary abortions are done in the first 12 weeks, and almost all of the rest in the next 8. Most women who get these knew they did not want to have a baby as soon as they found out they were pregnant. Since cases of women asking for abortion at 8 1/2 months are basically non-existent as far as I know there isn't much of a reason to worry about them.

    2. One of the reasons I am pro-choice has to do with health risk, a woman is necessarily taking a certain amount of health risk by being pregnant, if she is unwilling to take that risk it should be her choice, but as far as I know from the medical side of things after 8 months there is no real difference in health risks between an abortion and giving birth (I could be wrong about this)

    3. I support drawing lines because it's necessary, and a rational thing to do. I simply think the pro-life groups are drawing the line in the wrong place. Vocab said the place was consistent, and I'll grant that, but being consistent does not equal correct. Of course a fetus is developing into a human being, no one is unaware of that, but to fail to consider the woman's desires in all of this would be a dangerous place for society to go. This doesn't mean the government can't draw a line somewhere else, like in consideration of viability, particularly when the woman now has adequate time to decide what she wants to do.

    Perhaps I don't understand your question about adoption, I have no problem with adoption, but it seems irrelevant, unless you are suggesting this as an alternative to abortion, in that case I'm against it because it still amounts to forcing a woman to go through a pregnancy against her will.

    I'm glad we see eye to eye on birth control and sex ed issues. I am friends with some teachers who are often irritated with the abstinence education stance in this state as it ties their hands when students ask for help.

    1. Hi Dylan,

      Thanks for the quick response to my previous questions. However, I'm still not totally following the line of defense for your position. Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding.

      It seems like your claim is the State has no right to restrict the freedom a woman has to do what she wants with her own body. Yet, then you seem to support a law that does exactly that - restricts a woman's freedom over her own body - when the State has determined that the circumstances have changed, for viability of the unborn or whatever reason they have decided appropriate. The line of defense for this position you are presenting seems to be A) there's no demand after 20 weeks, other than the exception to save the mother's life (save 1 human being, rather than lose 2), so don't worry and B) it's a necessary and rational thing to do. Why? If the State has no right in the first place, and there's no demand other than to save the mother's life, why is it necessary and rational to draw a line?

      There was something else I was hoping you would continue for me. At the beginning of the debate you had conceded that a fetus is a human being, for the purposes of the discussion - although it's obvious you don't actually believe that an unborn child is a human being in the fetal stage of development. I was expecting you to continue the defense of your position under that concession but you may just have not had the opportunity. In your post above you mentioned that there is justified killing in certain contexts and abortion was one of those contexts. Why is it just to kill another human being in the context of abortion? Why does that human being not have an equal right to life?

      Thank you,
      PS: Regarding birth control, education, and abstinence, for the record I have no interest in restricting people's freedom by telling them how to or how not to have sex. My concern is with regard to human rights.

  3. At work right now so only time for a quick response.

    Honestly we may just not see eye to eye, since I'm not sure how to make my position more clear. It seems you are bringing up a philosophical issue. That is, how can I be OK with early term abortions and not late ones.

    I'm more concerned with the practical legal side, and my point was that since the scenario you you are presenting rarely if ever happens it's not something I'm overly concerned about.

    Late term abortions do happen sometimes of course, but they are generally because there is a medical need.

    Also, while the autonomy of the woman is important, I never said there were no other concerns. It seems you want a black and white answer to this issue, if that is what you want then you are in the wrong place. Right and wrong is often not a matter of perfect solutions but of questions of cost vs. benefit. It seems that late term abortions have potentially higher costs and fewer potential benefits. It's also worth noting that pro choice advocacy groups are not really fighting to allow voluntary abortions in the last trimester either. Like I said, it's unlikely you are going to find any 8 month pregnant women who aren't pregnant because they want to be... Well I'll take that back partially, because I've have known women who were forced to remain pregnant by parents or a boyfriend/husband, but like I pointed out, medically there really isn't any benefit to the woman in getting an abortion at say 8 months unless of course there is some medical problem that necessitates it.

    As to the last question, I thought I answered that in the debate, it simply isn't a question of if the fetus has a right to life, I said at the beginning I would grant it that right and still be pro-choice because and individuals right to life should not extend into someone else's personal autonomy . The analogy I used was if I needed a kidney to live the government would not require someone who is compatible to give up a kidney if they refused. If they refused they would be ostensibly taking away my life, but they would not be taking away my "right to life" if you understand the distinction. They would just be refusing to allow me to use their body to enable my survival, which would be their right.

    As an extension to this, if, for instance, medical science managed to develop some sort of artificial womb that would allow us to place a fetus in that device and develop normally, I don't know any pro-choicer who would be against such a device if it were available.

  4. OK, that response was not actually that quick.

  5. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks again for expanding on your position a bit more. I'm still struggling though.

    I'm really not trying to bring up a philosophical issue. Perhaps my asking questions about multiple issues at a time is confusing my intention. I'm just trying to trace the reasoning behind the defense of your position and get clarification on some things that strike me as inconsistent by asking what I thought I were direct questions - maybe they not have not been.

    I'd like to focus specifically on what you are saying the State can or cannot do. Again, at the beginning and end of the debate you said the State has no right to interfere with the choices a woman makes with her own body. Since laws are the instrument the State uses to restrict freedoms and prohibit behaviors that do not benefit itself, I understand your position to mean the State should therefore legislate no law that would restrict a woman's freedom to do what she wants with her own body. Do you think you even have that complete freedom yourself today? Your self-admittedly imperfect analogy about you needing a kidney transplant is an attempt to demonstrate how the State currently does not restrict someone's freedom to not donate a kidney to you if they do not choose to. So, the State needs to stay out of the way, it has no right to interfere. For those who are not the fittest to survive, tough luck, that's it for you. I think I'm tracking with you (although not necessarily agreeing with your claim) so far.

    The problem I see with your line of thinking is that you then claim to support the current law, legislated by the State, to restrict a woman's freedom to do what she wants with her own body, as a necessary and rational thing to do. You say that you are interested in the practical legal side. So, you support the State implementing practical laws that restrict a person's freedom to do what they want with their own body? Do you not see this as a direct contradiction to your first claim that the State has no right to interfere? You are no longer committed to your initial claim. Your defense of this contradiction is don't worry about it, because it just doesn't happen (to your knowledge) often enough to really be a concern? So it's just a law that never needs to be enforced? That seems more wasteful than practical.

    If you are committed to your initial claim, wouldn't a consistent argument be that there shouldn't be a law that creates a line at all? Why aren't you taking that position? How do you rationally defend the position of: the State has no right to interfere, except the State has a right to interfere?

    I'm somewhat curious of the cost-benefit calculus you would use to determine between moral rights and wrongs and how you would use that to reach conclusions on various issues, but I'm just going to let that go.

    For what it's worth, if you ever are in need of a kidney transplant to survive, I hope that someone who is a match would be willing to voluntarily sacrifice a kidney of their own in order to save you. You're worth it, and the act of heroism demonstrated by the donor is certainly a virtue to be admired and grateful for. I hope we agree on that point.

    I hope you enjoy your weekend.

    Thank you,

  6. Again, it seems you want a black and white answer to a complex question. I suppose I could give you the constancy you want if I were libertarian and against all government interference at all.

    But my statement is that I don't think the government should be interfering at THIS point in THIS issue, not that they should never interfere at all. Of course people may sometimes disagree about this based upon the criteria they use to determine when interference is necessary.

    For a separate example, I favor legalization of marijuana, but I have libertarian friends who want to see the entire FDA disbanded. I don't agree with them because I think the FDA serves a useful function, I just disagree with It's particular limit on one drug, not it's over all purpose. Is that inconsistent? My libertarian friends think so I guess.

    Same, bodily rights are complex. For instance we have laws requiring people wear seat-belts (and helmets on motorcycles), but that is just a choice that effects individuals right? Well not exactly, since people who don't wear seat-belts cause insurance rates and medical costs to rise. So is it right to interfere or not? Is it a simple question?

    It's complicated in part because of our history with governments and our rational fear of allowing them to become too totalitarian, we need governments to restrict some behaviors, but we also need to be able to limit it's power to do so. Does that seem contradictory? Because it is to some extent, but It's the reality we have to live with. In moral or political questions we are often forced to balance conflicting needs.

    So with abortion there are several conflicting issues but lets look at my initial potion.

    1. I believe a woman has a right to choose if she does not proceed with a pregancy.
    2. I'll agree that the further along in the pregnancy the closer the fetus is to becoming a human being. (defining the exact point it becomes one is difficult due to a number of factors)
    3. The state takes into account viability which seems to me reasonably rational factor.
    4. There is little, if any, benefit to the woman to end a pregnancy at 7 or 8 months, and virtually no one is even trying to do so. Abortions done at this point are pretty much all done because of a medical need, not voluntarily, so they are irrelevant to the discussion.
    5. The laws, (at least when properly enforced) give women in most situations ample time to decide if they want to voluntarily terminate the pregnancy, and the legal system exists to deal with exceptions if needed.

    So by 8 months the woman has already been given a choice to about whether or not she wants to be pregnant, and she choose to keep the child right? She made that choice months ago. This is why I am not even sure why this point is such sticking point with you. (It's certainly not one of the points I'm used to pro-lifers getting stuck on in this debate) She has already made the choice, as I pointed out, even if these late term abortions were legal they would extremely rare because of this.

    Maybe they should be legal from a procedural standpoint, there might be an argument to be made there, but like I said I don't know any pro-choice advocates making this argument at this time, and since women are OK with the line being drawn there, then I'm OK with it too.

    I'm not sure I can be any more clear at this point, if you still don't see my position as rational there isn't anything more I could really say to convince you of it.

  7. Hi Dylan,

    It's getting a little more clear, but it's just difficult when you don't precisely qualify your statements as you are making them. I'm an engineer, and I seek out precision and accuracy, because if I'm not accurate and precise, I make mistakes. I'm trying not to make a mistake in understanding what you're saying.

    In your last reply you said that your statement is "I don't think the government should be interfering at THIS point in THIS issue." What is "THIS point?" Am I to take that to mean today, anytime before 20 weeks into a pregnancy, or something else?

    However, in the grand scheme of the debate, I guess it really just doesn't matter. You've already said that killing an innocent human being is just in the context of abortion and rationalized it by saying an "individuals right to life should not extend into someone else's personal autonomy." From a human rights perspective, I just can't get there and you're analogy to demonstrate why doesn't help.

    So, I'll say thank you kindly for this participating in the debate, and for hosting this dialogue with me. I hope to hear you debate Vocab on future episodes of BPR. As I told Vocab, this debate has had a measurable impact in helping me solidify my own position.

    Take care,

  8. Hmm...well I'm being as precise as possible. I've worked on computers and technician support for years, so similar to you I understand the need to precision when dealing with technology. I'm not sure it is reasonable to expect the same type of precision when dealing with questions of morality or politics.

    You say the analogy doesn't help...I have a question. Do you actually think the person in the analogy should be forced to give up his kidney by the state? I'm asking because I am trying to understand, are you OK with the government interfering with bodily rights anytime it feels it is in the public's best interest, or only in the context of abortion?

    I ask because you say my line is not exact enough for your liking, but I feel like the same could be said of the prolife side.

  9. Hi Dylan,

    I'm glad that you are trying to be as precise as possible. That helps me to understand what you mean, and I want to encourage you to keep it up.

    I was thinking about your analogy a little more, and Vocab's point that you are describing what amounts to allowing someone to die passively, versus actively attacking them to end their life. I'd like to offer you another imperfect analogy that, from what I can gather, more closely parallels your viewpoint on the Pro-Choice position.

    Let's say you are in the hospital after a bad accident or a acquiring some new disease. You're unconscious and have been on life support systems for several weeks. The neurologist thinks he sees some signs of change in your brain activity, but there's some uncertainty over what this means. They think you'll eventually pull through, but you've become a financial burden on the hospital because you have no means by which you could pay for the care you've received and you're jeopardizing the hospital's ability to help other patients in need of care. It's certain you'll need a lot medical care afterward when you pull through, which you also can't pay for yourself. You'll likely be relying on someone else or even government assistance as you attempt to recover. The hospital decides they don't want to care for you anymore for whatever reason. Maybe to free up their resources to help other patients? Maybe their cost-benefit analysis says continuing to care for you without sufficient reimbursement is not in their best interests? Maybe the prognosis is you would not end up with a high quality of life? Maybe they've just changed their mind and wished you had been sent to a different hospital because they didn't fully consider the responsibilities of admitting such a needy patient in the first place? Maybe they just prefer to care for female patients and you are a male? Anyway, regardless of the rationale, they decide to cut-off your life support. Should the government step in and save your life?

    Take care,

  10. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure which side I would come down on in the analogy you present.

    Generally these choices are left up to the family, but since there is no family around in the analogy the hospitals choice may be the most rational one.

    In the end, I don't see this analogy as even remotely analogous to abortion since my continued existence is not directly dependent upon the use of another persons body.

  11. Hi Dylan,

    Fair enough, that answer actually helps me understand your position better than anything we've discussed so far. I accept that you don't see the analogy as even remotely analogous, because I think you would have to devalue human life to the point where you see a pregnant woman as the hospital - as simply an entity that provides resources. That seems to me as consistent with where an atheistic worldview leads you - no purpose, no meaning. For what it's worth, I would choose to step in and save you, because I believe that human life has intrinsic value worth saving. As to your question regarding your kidney analogy, my answer is that I believe that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.

    Take care Dylan,

  12. Sure, I think life has intrinsic value as well.
    This is in fact the only post you have made so far where I find a few things I strongly disagree with.

    I find it odd that you assume that atheists have no purpose of meaning (that would be nihilism) and the assumption that atheism necessarily leads to nihilism is one I reject.

    You use the word "intrinsic" and that is a good word in my opinion because it means the meaning comes from within. If god's existence had any affect on it it would be extrinsic, so, for me, whether he exists or not has no effect on how I value human life.

    In fact, I take the pro choice position precisely because I value human life. You use the phrase "proper justification" and I think I have argued that a human who is living off of another human against their will to be just that.

    Think about it, someone using another persons body against their will? What do we call that when an adult does it? I think it might rightly be called rape.

    See you want to defend the rights of the fetus, and I get that, I really do, but it seems in the middle of that desire you have forgotten about the woman carrying it, who is also a human being with a life and rights of her own, and if I have to choose between defending the rights and life of a fetus, that might be alive and might be conscious, verses a woman who clearly is both of those, well my choice is obvious. I could never look a woman in the eye and tell her that her rights have been relegated to "breeding vessel" for the next 9 months and her will is irrelevant.

    That is how I see it anyway, so I reject the notion that I'm pro choice because I just don't care about human life.

  13. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks, I'm learning a lot about your position now.

    So, what you are saying is that when a pregnant woman decides to exercise her choice for whatever reason, her consent is removed and the unborn human child becomes guilty of rape because it's now using the woman's body against her will. And rapists deserve the death penalty. This is the justification you use for aborting unwanted children and an example of how you value human life by being Pro-Choice? Over 50,000,000 lives terminated in the US alone since Roe v. Wade is the properly justified killing of rapists?

    I'm confident that you value human life when the woman's life is truly in jeopardy. Your research probably shows how many abortions are actually done to save the life of the mother. But otherwise it seems like what you're really saying is you value freedom, to the point where you would be willing to call an unborn human being domiciled in its mother a rapist to justify killing it. I could never look a woman in the eye and call her a "breeding vessel" or some other repulsive rhetoric either. But I could also never look her in the eye and tell her she is correct to view the defenseless child in her womb as a rapist that deserves death.

    Now, you may very well believe that killing an unborn child is actually ending a life. However, I just want to point out that during your closing statement you said "the government doesn't have the right to interfere with the choices a woman makes with her own body, even if those choices affect someone else's life, even the life of a fetus they might be carrying."

    So, in one your earlier posts you mentioned something about a fetus coming closer to becoming a human being but that defining the exact point was difficult due to a number of factors. What did you mean by that? What are the factors? What is the difference between a human fetus and a human being?

    Thank you,

    1. Third paragraph, first sentence should be "isn't" rather than "is."

  14. First off, I don't actually consider the fetus a rapist. Rape usually implies intent and there is no reason to infer that there is any intents of any kind in the fetus. Calling it rape would be rational if we were going to treat the fetus as having the same rights of an adult as pro lifers seem to want. I actually don't think that makes any sense, the argument was meant to show how illogical it is to impart the same level of rights on a fetus as you would on an adult. With rights come responsibilities, and if they are responsible then they would be considered rapists, but I see no reason to impart the fetus with any of these qualities. I hope that clarifies.

    Now, of course I value freedom, but to me the issue of freedom and life are tied together closely. There is more to life that mere survival right? There are plenty of things that the government could do which would save lives, but curtail our freedom. Where do we draw the line? I don't know your politics but do you really think it would be worth living in a totalitarian or communist regime if you were promised a few more lives would be saved? I don't because I think that quality of life is just as important as quantity.

    Now I have gotten to know you a bit and I know you wouldn't use a phrase like "breeding vessel" so I apologize if I offended, but my position is that even though most fundamentalists mean well (I did too back when I was one) in the end this is exactly what you are saying to women, whether you mean to or not.

    As for the last part, I'll sort of answer with a question of my own, can you tell me what the difference between a pile of sand it and a single grain? Of course I spoke a bit about this in my initial post, so I would suggest following some of the links I provided to articles about embryology. On this point if you want more than that you are really asking the wrong person. I would suggest asking a biologist, specifically one trained in embryology, they are much better versed in this than I