Thoughts on Abortion Arguments

Right now, we exist in an extremely politically divided and tension filled time; and I certainly do not in any way wish to add to this. As such, I am very much hesitant about posting on this or related topics. But since several questions were brought to me personally, I thought it might be appropriate to respond. Before I do so, however, I need to make fully clear my intentions in this post:

  1. In this post, I am not attempting to mount a positive argument in support of any sort of pro-life or anti-abortion ethical/political stance. I am both of those things, but I am not arguing positively for them here. Since I have not yet written much at all about ethics, I do not yet have a sufficient foundation for doing so
  2. In this post, I am also not arguing against any general pro-choice or pro-abortion stance. I will be arguing against some specific pro-choice arguments, as will be qualified below, but am not universally asserting opposition to all pro-choice and pro-abortion stances as such (again, I am opposed to these things, but am not here trying to argue against them generally).
  3. In this post, I am responding to several anti pro-life arguments and arguments in favor for choice/abortion. I am responding to these specific arguments here because they were presented to me personally, and because I happen to think they are very poor arguments that entirely miss the point of the debate. There may be serious arguments in favor of a pro-choice stance, but, I contend, the arguments I’m considering here very much are not. So if you personally do not think abortion is morally wrong or are in favor of a pro-choice stance, please do not consider this post a general opposition to your views. I respect your position and would gladly hold a more extended conversation about such.
  4. I am not assuming here the truth of or commitment to any religious traditions or associated beliefs. In other words, I will not be arguing on the basis of any religious beliefs. I will be arguing entirely on the basis of my own purely philosophical commitments.

So, with these preliminary notes having been established, we can begin. Conversations about the ethics or legality of abortion can be complex, but I take it that the crux of the whole issue is the status of the unborn. In general, it is good to make distinctions between 1) the ethical nature of some action, and 2) the legal nature of some action. Some actions may very well be immoral, and yet arguably should not be legally restricted (telling a little, inconsequential lie to a friend, for instance. I’m not aware of many people who think such a thing out to be punishable under law, however reprehensible it is). Some actions are entirely morally neutral and yet carry legal significance (driving on the left side of the road is not some intrinsically wrong action, but in a country where it is legally prescribed to drive on the right side of the road, driving on the left suddenly gains added meaning, not to mention danger to the self and others). Abortion, however, I think can be simplified. We might generally assume that, under most circumstances, to kill another person is morally wrong, and very much ought to be legally restricted. We will henceforth refer to the killing of another human person without justifiable reason simply as “murder”. Assuming that all murder as such is a great wrong and should definitely be legally prohibited, we can conclude that if abortion amounts to murder, abortion is therefore a great wrong and should definitely be legally prohibited.

Of course, in reality, the issue is much more complex. Because it is very possible that abortion does not amount to murder, and yet that it still might be wrong and worthy of legal prohibition. For instance, senseless killing of pets is not “murder” in the full sense, and yet some might still consider it as a crime worthy of legal consequence. This is, again, a very simplistic example, but for our purposes it is enough to point out that if abortion is equivalent to murder, than it is certainly wrong and legally condemnable, but even if it is not equivalent to murder, it still might be wrong and legally condemnable. So the primary and crucial issue in determining the morality and legality of abortion is in determining the “status” of the unborn. Does terminating the unborn amount to murdering a human being, and, if not, what does it amount to? Some might pose the question as “does the unborn have a ‘right to life'”, but since I find the modern notion of rights problematic, I won’t refer to it as such. Instead, I’ll use the term “dignity”, where possessing human dignity refers to the fact that it would be morally wrong and legally condemnable to kill that thing. In other words, I’ll take dignity to refer to just whatever it is about a human being that makes it morally wrong and legally condemnable to murder that human being. Again, note that I recognize that these issues are much, much, vastly more complex than I am making them out to be. I’m simplifying here for my purposes, which shall become evident as we continue. Also note: technically, some might distinguish between a “human being” as a biological organism and a “human person” as a human individual with a “right to life”. For now, I’m not making use of this distinction. Just know that I allow for it as a possibility. In other words, we might end up concluding that an unborn embryo or fetus does not have this “dignity” which makes it wrong to take the life thereof. That’s the very question on the table. We aren’t here assuming the precise qualifications for having this “dignity”, we’re just stating that this dignity is whatever it might be that makes it wrong to take the life of some human.

My position–which, again, I’m not trying to mount a positive defense of here–is that it is indeed morally wrong and legally condemnable to take the life of the unborn, at any stage from conception to birth. I hold this position as an essentialist and a natural law theorist. In other words, I hold that abortion at any stage does in fact amount to murder of a human life, and that it does so because the “dignity” of human life is rooted in the human essence, and any living human organism (which, I think, includes everything from the zygote onward) possesses the human essence and hence possesses the human “dignity”. Many people are not essentialists or natural law theorists and so will very much disagree with me, which is fine. I must reiterate again: I am not positively arguing for any of these positions here. I’m just pointing out what my own position is and that I hold it because of my philosophical beliefs about the status of the unborn. I think that unborn humans possess human dignity; in other words, whatever it might be that makes it wrong to kill a human adult, I think is present in unborn humans and hence makes it equally as wrong to take the life therefrom.

In my opinion, the best way to argue against the position I’ve just presented is to argue against essentialism. You might not even have to argue against the truth of essentialism generally; you might just argue that “dignity” is not due to the human essence but something else, and that something else is such that it allows for dignity to be present in post-birth humans but not the unborn. As far as I can see, this track is the strongest case against my essentialist anti-abortion stance. The following arguments, in comparison, do not, in my opinion, really answer the crucial points in favor of a pro-life philosophy. Most of these, which I will be responding to, are taken from an article which can be found here, shared to me by the author.

Argument 1: Abortion should be legally available because many illegal abortion practices are unsafe and result in harm and even death to the mother.

In support of this, the author, Babinski, makes several points:

  • One woman dies every 7 minutes around the world due to an unsafe illegal abortion. Women who undergo illegal abortions are those who are very poor and do not have access to family planning facilities for education and prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
  • Making abortion illegal or legal has no effect on the total number of abortions performed in the world. Making abortion legal dramatically reduces maternal morbidity and mortality.
  • Nearly 50% of pregnancies that occur yearly are unwanted with nearly ½ of those pregnant women terminating their pregnancy. In essence; 42 million choose to terminate their pregnancy with close to half of those (20 million) being illegal. [1]

Response 1: Consequences of unsafe illegal abortions, while sad, are irrelevant to the ontological question of the status of the unborn and the intrinsic morality of termination thereof.

To see this, consider an example. Suppose, some time in the future, all guns were completely outlawed and all destroyed. Now suppose that some people begin to manufacture guns illegally, but these guns are poorly made and defective, with the result that around a quarter of the time, when used, they explode and cause harm and death to the user. So, we might say, whenever these guns are used as attempted murder weapons, theres a 25% chance that they end up killing the wielded as well as his attempted victim. It seems to me that it makes about as much sense to say that we should therefore (in this hypothetical future) make guns legal since attempted murderers have a much higher chance of harming themselves with illegal guns than they do with legally manufactured guns, as it does to say that abortion should be legal because illegal abortions are much more unsafe and dangerous. Obviously the analogies have important differences, one of which being that guns have a wide variety of purposes beyond just killing, but I think the point stands. If abortion amounts to murder, then it just doesn’t matter for the question of morality and legality whether or not illegal abortions are unsafe. The argument in effect is contending that whether or not abortions are legal, women will still get abortions, so they should just be legal so that they can do so safely. But, if abortion does in fact amount to murder, then that’s about as sensical as saying that we should just make murder legal since whether or not it’s legal, people will attempt murders anyways. Whether or not people do a thing is irrelevant to the question of whether or not that thing is right or wrong in itself. The central question is whether abortion amounts to murder. If it does, then of course it should be just as legally condemnable as murder itself is. If not, then that raises further questions, but the present argument just doesn’t deal with these fundamental issues.

Argument 2: Over-population is a dire problem that could negatively affect the entire human race and the entire planet, and abortion acts to slow population growth.

He uses China as an example, quoting Pat Robertson:

“Theyʼve got 1.2 billion people and they donʼt know what to do . . . If every family over there was allowed to have three or four children, the population would be completely unsustainable” [2].

Elsewhere, Babinski wrote directly to me: “[There are] almost 8 billion humans, diminishing rain forests [and] species, ocean gyres of plastics, [is this] not enough human life [for you]?” In effect, over-population is environmentally disastrous, and abortion curbs over-population.

Response 2: The effects of abortions on population size are completely irrelevant to the question of the intrinsic moral standing of abortion in itself.

The response here is similar to the previous one. If abortion amounts to murder, then one can only justify it as a means of population-size restraining insofar as one can justify murder generally as a means of population-size restraining. If it is wrong and legally condemnable to murder people in order to slow population growth, and if abortion amounts to murder, then it is equally as wrong and legally condemnable to abort the unborn.

In saying this, I am in no way denying the very serious problem of over population. What I am denying is that this problem can have any bearing whatsoever on the intrinsic moral/legal standing of abortion, if abortion amounts to murder. Once again, the fundamental question is whether or not abortion amounts to murder, and, if it does, assuming that murder is morally wrong and legally condemnable, then population concerns cannot even in principle justify abortion.

As should be clear by now, Babinski and I are working on very different and conflicting moral frameworks. He seems to be very consequentialist in nature, i.e. for him, the effects of actions seem to have serious weight on the moral standing of those actions. For him, it seems that if allowing abortion leads to positive consequences, while not allowing abortion leads to negative ones, then we should allow abortion. For me, while consequences are of moral import, they are somewhat secondary to the question of the intrinsic moral standing of the action, in itself. For me, if abortion in itself is morally wrong, then even if allowing it might bring about some positive consequences, it is still wrong. Moreover, in Thomistic terms, these consequences are accidental to the action, not essential. In other words, we can easily imagine some alien planet where abortion could never be unsafe, even if illegal, so legally restricting abortion could never have the negative consequence of leading to harm from unsafe abortions. Similarly, we can easily imagine some planet where over-population is not an issue at all, so abortion would not have the positive consequence of curbing over-population. Indeed, we could easily imagine some planet where the alien species is endangered, so abortion’s effect on population growth would in fact be very negative. All this to say that these types of consequences are accidental and non-essential to abortion in itself, and so, while of some import of consideration, are just irrelevant to the question of the intrinsic moral standing of abortion in itself.

Argument 3: “God/Nature are abortionists”.

Babinski writes:

Many conceptions do not mature properly and are naturally aborted. And a fairly high percentage (20-30% or more?) of people born as single individuals used to be twins in the womb but one of them was reabsorbed into the womb or into the other twin.

Even the pro-lifer, Dr. John Collins Harvey, admits, ‘Products of conception [often] die at either the zygote, morula, or blastocyst stage. They never reach the implant stage but are discharged in the menstrual flow of the next period. It is estimated that [this]occurs in more than 50 percent of conceptions. In such occurrences, a woman may never even know that she has been pregnant'” [3].

This is somewhat similar to an argument made by popular science spokesman Bill Nye in a video. He asks:

“If you’re going to say that when an egg is fertilized it therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue, whom are you going to imprison, every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy whose sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?

. . . I know it’s your interpretation of a book written fifty centuries ago, that it makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby, but that’s wrong. So to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature . . . Nobody likes abortion, but you can’t tell somebody what to do. She has rights over this” [4].

Elsewhere, the argument is put like this:

God is the world’s greatest abortionist, and God evidently hates babies. 

How many embryos and fetuses never make it to birth?  How many babies die in natural childbirth?  How many infants die before reaching age five?  The statistics are not good.  The most hazardous journey of life is the first few months . . . as few as one-quarter of all conceptions avoid reabsorption or miscarriage, and of those fetuses that do make it to full-term, another large percentage die during natural childbirth.  It’s obvious that embryos are not well-designed for making it to infancy” [5].

Babinski himself asked me directly: “What penalties do you intend to impose on your God for murdering 75% of all human zygotes?”

Response 3: So there seem to be several different facets to this particular argument. I’ll list what I see as the main, simplified versions thereof:

  1. Death of the unborn is frequent and entirely natural, so abortion is in keeping “with nature” and so should be allowed.
  2. From Nye: if a fertilized egg has same “rights” (I’ll use “dignity” instead) as an individual, who can you blame/penalize for every fertilized egg that doesn’t make it to birth by way of natural causes?
  3. From Nye: Anti-abortion arguments are based on the belief that all sexual intercourse leads to pregnancy and birth, but that’s false; many or most instances of sexual intercourse do not lead to the birth of a child, so abortion should be allowed.
  4. From Nye: You cannot tell somebody what to do. The pregnant woman has the right to choose
  5. Most embryos and fetuses do not make it to birth. If God is indeed omnipotent and sovereign, this fact must mean that God causes or allows most embryos and fetuses to die before birth, so God, if he exists, must not be pro-life or anti-abortion, so we shouldn’t be either.
  6. If abortion is wrong and condemnable, why don’t we penalize God for causing/allowing so many natural “abortions”?

Notice, again, how not a single one of these points is in any way pertaining to the question of the status of the unborn. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said, as I’ve explained above. If an argument in support of abortion’s morality/legality does not engage, at least to some degree, with the question of the status of the unborn, then that argument is just sheerly irrelevant, for primary purposes. But, to be fair, I’ll respond to each of the above points.

1) To see the absurdity of this, consider a corollary: death of fully born humans is frequent and entirely natural. In fact, the death rate of the human species is hovering right around 100% so far. So murder of a fully born human is in keeping “with nature” and hence should be allowed.

If you think that corollary is ridiculous (which it is), then you must reject the same reasoning in relation to abortion. That the unborn die naturally is quite sad and unfortunate, but it hardly makes sense to then turn around and say, “so it’s completely alright for human agency to increase the death rate of the unborn by purposefully terminating unborn lives.” Whether or not some phenomena occur naturally is completely irrelevant to the question of human responsibility in relation to purposefully brining about that same phenomena.

2) Again consider a corollary: If adult humans have dignity (right to life), then who can you blame when they die of natural causes such as heart failure, cancer, illness, etc.? In most cases, you just cannot blame anyone at all; the situation is not something susceptible of “blame” in the first place.

Suppose that an elderly woman gets quite sick with pneumonia, and she is cared for by her elderly husband. The woman fights through the terrible sickness and recovers. But she, completely unintentionally, passes on the sickness to her husband, who ends up passing away as a result. The woman may have been the “cause” of his death in the sense that her having the sickness was the direct reason for him then contracting it and dying therefrom, but one would hardly say that the woman is an any way morally culpable or blameworthy, or that she’s done anything wrong at all. But now suppose that the woman actually hates her husband, and in the middle of some night she smothers him to death. Then she is also the cause of his death, but in this case we would certainly say she has acted reprehensibly and is very much worthy of penalization. In the same way, if a fetus dies naturally in a mother’s woman, it would just be ridiculous to “blame” the mother or anyone for such. But if the mother purposefully and willfully terminates the life, and if the unborn has human “dignity”, then of course what she has done is entirely wrong and blameworthy, and it is just totally irrelevant that the fetus she killed might have died of natural causes anyways.

3) I’ve never encountered a single serious anti-abortion/pro-life argument that contended that abortion is wrong because all sexual intercourse leads to pregnancy and birth. I’d be willing to guess Nye has never encountered a single serious argument to that effect either, and that he really has no idea what he’s talking about.

4) This is question begging. As I’ve repeatedly insisted, if the unborn has human dignity, then terminating the life of the unborn amounts to murder and is wrong and legally condemnable. If the unborn does not have full human dignity, then its status is still left open and needs to be determined. But if abortion amounts to murder, then there is in principle just no such thing as a “right to choose”, anymore than the elderly woman has a “right to choose” to smother her husband in his sleep. So the central, fundamental question still remains, with not attempts to answer or even engage with it.

5/6) These last two arguments make reference to God. As I stated at the beginning, my position does not depend in any way on a theistic framework, and neither do any of my arguments. Some people do make reference to God in support of anti-abortion arguments, so these points might be relevant to them, but not to me or my purposes. In other words, whether or not God exists, and whether or not God’s existence has any bearing on morality, my argument still stands.

To see this, we can once more consider a corollary: Many fully born humans die naturally all the time. If God is omnipotent and sovereign, he must cause or allow all these deaths. So God must not be opposed to murder; hence murder must not be wrong and should be allowed. If you don’t think this is a good argument in favor of murder, then you cannot consider it a good argument in favor of abortion. And still the fundamental question remains: does abortion amount to murder?

But since I do happen to believe in God, and since some people might indeed hold that believing in God commits one to believing that there is nothing wrong with murder, I’ll offer a few responses to these points. There are a number of ways one could go about doing so. The first possible way is note a distinction between what God directly causes to happen, and what God merely allows to happen. If God has created and established a world of order and intelligibility, where secondary causation and cause and effect relationships are real, then it is entirely possible that God allows things to happen without being the direct cause thereof, and that an unfortunate “side-effect” of respecting secondary causation as such is that phenomena like frequent natural death of the unborn occurs. One defending this position might also suggest that God has “good reasons” or “ultimate purposes” in allowing these things to take place.

Another approach, in my mind superior to the first, is just to insist that what is morally obligatory for humans is not necessarily the same as what is morally obligatory for God (if indeed anything at all can be said to be “morally obligatory” for God. I don’t happen to think so, but since this might be a minority opinion I won’t discuss it here). For example, it is (arguably, just for the sake of example) morally obligatory for humans to not engage in pre-marital sexual relations. But it is just nonsensical to apply the same moral obligation to God, since God by definition, as a non-physical Being, is not something even capable of engaging in sexual relations in the first place. So, I’d contend, what God causes or allows to happen himself does not necessarily affect human moral obligations.

If you don’t like or agree with either of these two answers, that’s fine, since I’m not committed here to defending either of them. I offer them merely as possible responses that one might flesh out further. But my original point still stands: the God question is irrelevant to my argument.

Many of the other arguments from Babinski’s post likewise are directed at specifically biblical or theological issues, so I won’t respond to them here, for the same reason just given. My position does not depend upon or even make reference to any biblical or theological support.

Argument 4: Confusion on “souls”.

Babinski writes:

If the life of a personʼs eternal soul begins at conception/fertilization yet you freeze a human egg right after it is fertilized, then is that a “soul on ice?” This is not a merely theoretical question, because it happens all the time in fertilization clinics. They mix human sperm and eggs in test tubes and store the fertilized zygotes in a freezer sometimes for years before they are implanted in a womanʼs uterus. The prominent Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, argued that “soul-life” only began several months after conception” [6].

Response 4: In all honesty, though I think Babinski’s point here strikes closer to the main issue, I fail to understand what argument is actually being made. It seems he’s arguing that the unborn do not have a soul directly at conception and hence that termination thereof isn’t wrong. But this is confusing, because the point is only relevant if someone argues that a soul is what grounds human dignity (which I haven’t). Presumably, Babinski doesn’t think any humans have a soul at any stage, so if he doesn’t think a soul as such is necessary to ground human dignity, why think an argument against fertilized having souls in any way is an argument against anti-abortion generally? In other words, I fail to see how this argument makes any sort of statement on the status of the unborn. It doesn’t even argue that human dignity isn’t grounded in a soul; at most, if successful it might establish that fertilized eggs from conception do not have a soul, but nothing more.

But, to answer his “soul on ice” question: sure, I suppose? It depends on what one means by a soul. I take the soul to be, on an Aristotelian framework, the “form of the body”. At the zygote stage, the “body” is just a single cell, but is still a living organism and hence necessarily has a form, or soul. If freezing preserves the cell and doesn’t destroy it, then it likewise preserves the form and doesn’t destroy it. So I’m not sure how this is works as an argument either way.

And, just to be clear, St. Thomas did indeed think that “soul-life” begins later than conception, but that’s only because, at that time, with limited medical equipment, they did not know that the living organism begins at conception. We now know that it does, as the single celled zygote. If St. Thomas had this knowledge, he most assuredly would have concluded that the soul is present from conception. Either way, St. Thomas also thought that contraception itself in any form is wrong, so even if terminating the pregnancy at conception isn’t “abortion” or murder, he still would have condemned it.

Elsewhere, he asked me a related question: If you can save only a suitcase of one thousand frozen zygotes or a baby from a burning building, which would you save?

In all honesty, I suspect I’d be inclined to save the baby; but once again I fail to see what point that makes. Or, rather, I think I see what point the question is trying to make, but I think it fails entirely to make that point.

The point he’s trying to make is that one would probably save the baby, and this fact supposedly reveals our inherent knowledge that the baby is a “real” human while the zygotes are not. And, admittedly, my intuitions are much more inclined to recognize a baby as human, and to form attachment to that baby, than to a bunch of frozen single celled organisms. But that my intuitions are such doesn’t have any effect on whether or not those zygotes actually possess human dignity or not, which I think they do, for philosophical reasons.

Consider a related challenge: you can save only either a one week old newborn, or a one year old baby, from a burning building. Which do you save? I have no idea, and it’s a horrible question that tells us absolutely nothing about the intrinsic value of the two subjects in question.

To return to the initial questions, I can think of several reasons that one might save the baby over the frozen zygotes. The most obvious might be that the frozen zygotes aren’t even implanted in a uterus, and hence have a very high chance of not surviving anyways, whereas the baby can already survive on its own. Which doesn’t at all mean that the baby is intrinsically more valuable, and it certainly doesn’t mean that one should be allowed to purposefully terminate the life of those zygotes. Once again, the central question still remains: what is the status of the unborn?

Which leads to what is perhaps the only argument I’ve seen from Babinski which attempts any sort of answer to that central, fundamental question.

Argument 5:

He writes:

Why not admit that wearing a condom leads to the same thing as having an abortion? It’s a matter of where along the continuum of life one determines to cut the cord so to speak. So if one wears a condom one is stopping a potential child’s life just as surely as if one took a morning after pill. The continuum of human life consists of time and coming together. Prior to conception the sperm and egg have to come together, but even after conception it is a matter of time and things coming together, since DNA and proteins have to continue coming together instead of sperm and egg, and also there are the proteins and oxygen from the mother’s bloodstream that have to come together with those of the growing zygote/embryo/fetus at each stage. Sure the distances between the various molecular bits inside and outside the fertilized egg (that continue coming together) is far shorter than the original distance between egg and sperm but what we see are bits continuing to come together. And breaking the continuum of time and bits coming together at any point in that continuum ends a potential human from being born” [7].

First of all, as a natural law theorist, I do happen to believe that contraception is immoral. But I still think there’s an important distinction between contraception and abortion: namely, one prevents a life and one kills a life. Babinski seems to be contending here that they are equivalent in that they both “stop a potential human from being born”. But this assumes that an unborn child at any state is merely a “potential human”, which is the very issue at hand.

He does, however, seem to offer some attempt at support. He says that just as the sperm and egg have to come together to form the fertilized egg, so even after conception do more factors/conditions have to come together/continue to be met in order for the fertilized egg to develop and eventually be born. And this is correct. It also, again, has no effect whatsoever on the status of the unborn. Is this meant to argue that the unborn do not have human dignity? If so, it fails miserably. For even fully born and fully grown humans require the “coming together” and meeting of a large plethora of various different conditions in order to survive each and every moment. These include things such as gravity, a habitable planet, a habitable universe, food and water and shelter, breathable air, etc. etc. etc. In other words, if requiring various conditions to be met in order to be born renders a fetus “unhuman” (in the sense of not possessing human dignity), then by the same qualification no human at any stage of life can be thought to possess human dignity.

One might insist that the necessary conditions for the fetus have to be met in order for it just to be born, while the necessary conditions for the born human have to be met in order for it just to continue surviving. In other words, this argument might be thought of as maintaining that it is the process of being born that somehow gives the child its human dignity, and hence that prior to birth it lacks such dignity. But Babinski has not given any actual, positive reason for thinking that the process of birth somehow instills dignity on the child. In any case, the fact that the unborn requires certain conditions to be met in order to be born is most certainly not such a reason.

In conclusion, nearly every argument here just entirely misses the primary point of the abortion question. If the unborn has human dignity, then killing it amounts to murder and is thus morally wrong and legally condemnable. If not, then its status still needs to be determined, since it could still be the case that killing it is morally wrong and legally condemnable. But not a single one of the arguments presented here was relevant to this question. I thus cannot help but think that those who present such arguments are either dishonest, or else radically misunderstand the issue.

But, as I said at the beginning, I fully admit that there are much better arguments than those examined here, and that the overall issue itself is much more complex than I’ve made it out to be. It was not my purpose in this post to respond to such arguments; I was merely responding to those presented directly to me, which I hold to be singularly poor.

 

Notes

[1]. Quoted from this article by Babinski: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2012/08/abortion-women-and-bible.html

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Ibid.

[4]. From video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IPrw0NYkMg

[5]. Quoted from this article: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/god_is_the_greatest_abortionist/

[6]. Quoted from Babinski article above

[7]. Quoted from this Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/edbabinski/posts/10154058227201784

Cover Image: Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADa_Vinci_Studies_of_Embryos_Luc_Viatour.jpg&gt;.

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on Abortion Arguments

  1. I think you went to a lot of trouble to repeat, as if it was an argument, that zygotes were “dignified” human beings and abortion was “murder.” And “essentialism” and “natural law” were true.

    My point about keeping abortion legal as an aid to preserving human civilization doesn’t require much philosophic explanation. Surely aborting the very environment that enables humans to breed successfully is worse than individual choices of women to abort safely. Aborting civilization, and perhaps the entire species because we refused to teach comprehensive sex Ed, make birth control readily available, and refused to keep abortion legal, is not an equal proposition. Yet with nearly 8 billion people and countless industrial wastes in our air and water, and diminishing rain forests and wildlife, that appears to be what we humans are doing. If there is anything to essentialism, certainly one should recognize the veracity of such an essential question.

    Also, I didn’t say people had no souls (I am not an atheist, but a person with questions). I asked you about the status of a frozen embryo’s soul. Nor did you explain what your own view of “soul” entailed. I know that some Christians are brain-mind monists, not dualists.

    Also, when it comes to a human being being prevented from entering society at large via the birth canal, a condom stops such a thing from happening just as surely as a morning after pill or first term abortion. Life is a continuum, and you can stop a soul at many points. In the case of ejaculation the sperm and egg are alive and in the act of coming together, wearing a condom severs the continuum of that potential human just as sure as “murdering” the resulting zygote that would have formed had they been allowed to meet. Even after sperm enters egg there is a period of 24 hours or more when the nucleus still hasn’t come together.

    And, something I didn’t mention before, after the zygote implants and starts dividing, it often splits into two zygotes but later one is absorbed by the other, kind of like death without a corpse. Did its soul split during that time as well? And then rejoin?

    Speaking of coming together, essential nutrients have to keep moving from the mother’s blood stream to the growing cells. But who says a person has to be forced by law to become a literal incubator? Do we force people by law to donate their blood or kidneys? We can persuade people to be generous, and if that is all that the pro-life movement did, that would be fine.

    In the end, I think your philosophizing misses the point of the inviolability of a person’s body, and their right to decide their own future as an adult. We also both want every child to be wanted and needed by their biological parents, who can also supply their children with things they in turn need to flourish in life. We don’t want people to breed recklessly. There are already more needy children on earth than we are taking care of medically, educationally, nutritionally. Let’s see pro-lifers and pro-choices come together and concentrate on those children, the already born. And let’s keep abortion legal.

    Also, speaking of the mystery of the soul, there are people with split brains, two hemispheres with their central connecting neurons cut via surgery. And each hemisphere has been proven to be able to answer questions separately. In one case they even disagreed concerning belief in God. In other cases one hemisphere wrestles with the other, literally, over putting on pants, opening doors, even slapping away the other hand when it know how to solve a cube puzzle. How many souls does a split brain patient have?

    There is also a famous case of two young girls in Canada whose brains are connected in the temporal region, who can see out of each other’s eyes, and it looks like they can read each other’s thoughts to some degree. Do their souls overlap?

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  2. Thank you again for taking the time to read my pieces and for admitting in your article above that “…my intuitions are much more inclined to recognize a baby as human, and to form attachment to that baby, than to a bunch of frozen single celled organisms.”

    Of course you added that your intuitions mean little compared with your philosophizing. I suggest the reverse is more likely. I also point out why the reverse if more likely in this piece on the moral question: https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-moral-question.html

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    • Thanks for your comments. I will be responding to all three here:

      1. To reiterate what I stated at the beginning of my article, I am not here arguing or defending at all any of my positions (dignity of unborn, essentialism, natural law theory, etc). This was not meant in any way as a positive case for any of those things. Rather, my point was that all of the arguments given do not answer the central question of the status of the unborn and hence are just irrelevant to the morality of abortion.

      2. You write: “My point about keeping abortion legal as an aid to preserving human civilization doesn’t require much philosophic explanation. Surely aborting the very environment that enables humans to breed successfully is worse than individual choices of women to abort safely.” Actually, I think it does require a good bit of philosophical explanation. And as for your second statement, it’s again irrelevant to the morality of abortion, as my entire article argued. But, I happen to have a simple solution to your environmental worries: abstinence. In addition, I wonder, if you have such major concerns for the well being of the environment (which are valid), do you think killing of large numbers of adult humans is a morally acceptable course of action to achieve the same results? If not, why not? And if not, what is the difference between that and between killing the unborn? My point is just that until this question can be answered, every other abortion argument is irrelevant.

      3. Concerning souls: I did answer your question and explain my stance on souls in the article. I wrote: “I take the soul to be, on an Aristotelian framework, the “form of the body”. At the zygote stage, the “body” is just a single cell, but is still a living organism and hence necessarily has a form, or soul. If freezing preserves the cell and doesn’t destroy it, then it likewise preserves the form and doesn’t destroy it.” I am neither a brain-mind monist, nor a substance dualist, I’m an Aristotelian hylomorphic dualists. But I don’t see the abortion question as necessarily dependent on the issue of souls. In other words, I think abortion would amount to murder even if souls do not exist. With or without souls, we still have to determine the status of the unborn in order to determine the morality of abortion.

      4. Your point about contraception and life as a “continuum” I answered directly in the article. I stated in the article my view on contraception generally, but also responded that there’s an important distinction between contraception and abortion. I don’t see anything new to respond to here. As for your question about the “splitting soul” I refer to my answer in 3 above, but also add that, on an Aristotelian hylomorphic view, no the soul wouldn’t split.

      5. Your next point: “But who says a person has to be forced by law to become a literal incubator? Do we force people by law to donate their blood or kidneys?” I take this to be the strongest argument you make, and to answer it fully would require a much more extended discussion. Part of our difficulty is that we’re coming, as far as I can tell, from just drastically different and conflicting moral frameworks. As a natural law theorist, I’d say that the mother, in having sexual relations, commits herself automatically to the possibility of conception and the full range of effects that result therefrom. In other words, I hold it that it is the mother’s duty to bear and raise the child. For a very simplistic example, suppose someone goes out a buys a pet dog. Then, after realizing all the difficult work involved in caring for such a pet, he decides he’s not up for it and doesn’t want to continue providing for the dog. But instead of responsibly finding a new owner, he just lets the dog starve to death in his home. We’d rightly condemn this person. Why? Because in buying the dog, the man commits himself automatically to the responsibilities of caring for the dog. In the same way, a natural law theorist would argue, a woman (and a man) who engages in sexual activity automatically commits herself (and himself) to the duties of caring and providing for the possibly conceived child. Of course, there are complications to this, such as instances of rape when the mother did not consent to such activities and the resulting responsibilities. But, I’d argue, such instances still cannot justify termination, if the unborn has human dignity (which, again, is the central question which must be answered). To flesh this out further, let’s consider your question about donating kidneys. Do we legally force someone to donate blood or kidneys? No, even though I’d argue someone can be in a situation where they are *morally* obligated to do such. But, for illustrative purposes, let’s suppose someone is undergoing kidney failure and will die without a donated kidney. In this case, the direct cause of their dying is the kidney failure. The lack of a donated kidney may be a *contributing* factor, but it is not the direct cause, since not having a donated kidney is not what causes the underlying need for such a kidney in the first place. Is this comparable with a mother aborting her child? Not at all. For in this cause, the mother is not just “ceasing” to provide her nutrients; she is actively, directly, and purposefully killing the unborn. She is here the direct cause. And if the unborn has human dignity, then her directly causing its death is equivalent to murder. So the analogy, I think fails.

      6. I can fully agree with your sentiment about caring for the already born. I just don’t see this as mutually exclusive from caring for the unborn as well.

      7. As for the section from the booklet, I find it “thought provoking” just in the sense that in reading it, like in reading any argument/set of arguments, I try to engage with what the writer is saying as genuinely and thoughtfully as I can. But do I find it thought provoking in the sense that it makes me suddenly doubt my commitment to natural law theory? Not at all. Perhaps because I read only that one section and not the whole booklet, but I saw no positive reasons for agreeing with the assertions of his argument, nor can I tell whether or not the writer really has a good grasp of what exactly natural law theory is in the first place. For the most part, I absolutely disagree with the statements about ideology and theology being forms of self hypnosis.

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  3. I believe that the position a pro choice person takes has to base it upon the non dignity (I like your portrayal) of the fetus. They must refuse all arguments to justify their position that abortion is simply a medical choice of a pregnant woman, akin to elective surgery. If a person can take such a position, then they can feel justified. You have done well in your positions. Thanks.

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  4. Consider a related challenge: you can save only either a one week old newborn, or a one year old baby, from a burning building. Which do you save? I have no idea, and it’s a horrible question that tells us absolutely nothing about the intrinsic value of the two subjects in question.

    That is a completely different challenge than the one you tried to address. I’ll modify it a little: “you can save only either thousand (or insert any other arbitrarily large number here) one week old newborn, or a one year old baby…”.
    *Now* it would be a related challenge, and now your answer to the challenge would tell us quite a lot about whether you truly do, or do not, believe that both the baby and the newborn are at least somewhat comparable wrt their “human dignity” as you like to call it.

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    • Fair enough: choosing between a thousand newborns and a single one year old is a closer parallel. But my point was that hypotheticals like this don’t really tell us anything of real import. If I can choose to save a thousand newborns or a single one year old, of course I’m going to save the thousand, but that choice is dependent upon the number, not the intrinsic dignity. My example (between one of each) was meant to get at whether or not such hypotheticals can tell us anything about the intrinsic dignity of the subjects, which I don’t think they can. In Mr. Babinksi’s example (choosing between a thousand frozen zygotes or a single baby), I admitted that my first instinct would most likely be to save the baby over the suitcase of frozen zygotes. But that this is instinctive, I suggested, tells us nothing. Of course my instinct would be to save the baby. I can see the baby, touch the baby, interact with the baby. The zygotes are a bunch of frozen single celled organisms that don’t display many of the characteristics my brain is trained to register as belonging to a fellow human. In the spur of the moment, in a raging fire, it’s very likely that I’d just instinctively choose to save the baby. But, again, this just doesn’t tell us whether I’d be *right* to do thus.

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      • If I can choose to save a thousand newborns or a single one year old, of course I’m going to save the thousand, but that choice is dependent upon the number, not the intrinsic dignity.

        So if we change the thousand newborns to thousand iphones, then you’d save the thousand iphones? If not, please explain why you’d then rather save the one baby without resorting to what you call “intrinsic dignity” in your response. And if you cannot do that, then it would appear that your choice here actually is dependent upon this “intrinsic dignity”.

        But that this is instinctive, I suggested, tells us nothing. Of course my instinct would be to save the baby. I can see the baby, touch the baby, interact with the baby. The zygotes are a bunch of frozen single celled organisms that don’t display many of the characteristics my brain is trained to register as belonging to a fellow human.

        Minor correction: they display absolutely none of those characteristics in any way, shape or form.

        In the spur of the moment, in a raging fire, it’s very likely that I’d just instinctively choose to save the baby. But, again, this just doesn’t tell us whether I’d be *right* to do thus.

        So you do think that your instinctive choice would be morally wrong and not the one you’d make if you had more time to reflect? If that is so, does your moral intuition change after thinking about this matter in depth or do you still ‘feel’ that you ought to save the baby but realize that rationally you ought to save the box with the frozen embryos?

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      • In the example I gave (a thousand newborns or a single one year old), the choice is dependent upon number *because* the intrinsic dignity is equivalent; a single newborn and a single one year old have the exact same intrinsic dignity, and hence one is not more intrinsically valuable than the other; but by virtue of this, saving a thousand newborns would be more valuable than saving a single one year old, not because newborns are intrinsically more valuable than one year olds, but because they have precisely the same intrinsic value, and hence the number is the definitive factor in my decision.
        Responding to your question, “you do think that your instinctive choice would be morally wrong and not the one you’d make if you had more time to reflect?” This is very possibly the case. Instinctive tendencies can very much be mistaken, especially in a situation such as this. The human brain just has not evolved to recognize single celled organisms as humans; not because they aren’t, but because we never *interact* consciously with such things as humans. Until the development of modern science, we had no idea life began at such an early stage and in such a way. So my automatic instinct to be drawn to the baby over the frozen zygotes is, so far as I can tell, a purely psychological reaction. But, as I suggested in the article, it is possible that even after further reflection I may decide that saving the one baby is the right thing to do. The difficulty is that the zygotes are not in their natural condition; they’ve been removed from a human womb and have been frozen. If the zygotes are “thawed” and are not implanted in a uterus, they will presumably die fairly quickly. Even if they remain frozen, and they are saved from the fire, there’s no guarantee that they’ll even be implanted in a uterus in the future, and hence it is entirely likely that they’ll never survive and be given the opportunity to grow and mature. Do these factors effect their status of possessing human dignity? Not if my essentialist position is correct. But these factors might very well effect the moral standing of one’s decision. It depends entirely on one’s ethical framework. But in this article, I did not attempt a defense of my essentialist position, nor did I lay out any positive sort of ethical framework. I merely argued that these arguments do not address the fundamental question of the abortion debate. And that is true of this hypothetical dilemma as well.

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