Friday, November 9, 2012


I'm not feeling very well tonight, so I'm going to try to keep this lucid and short, but if I get into a rhythm while writing, it may wind up exceedingly long.

Pro-life.  This has been a jumbo major issue in politics and ethics for some time now, principally regarding abortion, though that's not all I intend to talk about.

At its heart, the distinction that pro-lifers and pro-choicers (I'm going to clean this up and start using PL and PC) make regarding pregnancy is whether or not a fetus is considered a life and is therefore subject to rights and, therefore, the potential to be murdered.
Obviously, PL believe a fetus is a human deserving rights equivalent to a normal human, while PC believe that it is more like an extension of the body of the pregnant woman or "host." Given that it's part of the would-be mother and not its own entity, it falls under the jurisdiction of the woman in the same way that she can have her tonsils removed if she wants.

A philosophical argument that can be raised from this distinction is the worth of non-self-sufficient life itself. Does a human have human rights if it is incapable of caring for itself?
A common answer would be- of course, a baby cannot care for itself, but it will grow up and will inherit that capacity.
What if we added a caveat to the end of it? Does a human have human rights if it is incapable of caring for itself and does not have the potential to ever care for itself?
Definitely stickier territory, but here we can cite those with extreme mental and/or physical handicaps who are incapable of surviving solely on their own.

However, the interesting thing is that the right to life does not appear to be equivalent to the obligation to care for. While society seems to be in relative agreement that the life is sacred, society does not demand that the original parent necessarily care for these lives (that will never be able to care for themselves) so long as they make the effort to put them into the hands of those who will care for them.
So, there's a mild distinction between the theoretical obligation to birth a child, but not necessarily care for it.

Now, here's where I want to bring in what is, I think, one of the more interesting questions regarding the consistency of PLers.
Are you PL in all cases, including rape and incest?

If so, why does the sex being consensual matter to the rights of the unborn? Your answer might be about the health of the child (incest) or the health of the mother (rape) if you stick to common answers.

The follow up question then- Why does the health of the child matter in cases of incest but not in cases of provable birth defects during pregnancy?
Similarly, why does the health of the mother matter in cases of rape but not in cases of normal pregnancy? You might say, "But Wade, that's not fair, I'm also in support of the right to abortion if the mother's life is at risk!" But I'm not talking about the threat of death, I'm talking about overall health. Pregnancy is an incredible physical, psychological, emotional, and financial strain on a person that often results in health complications. To consider these things in the cases of rape but not in the cases of your average pregnancy is negligent towards the health of women everywhere.

Going back to the health of the child, if you acquiesce and say that perhaps birth defects should be considered a legitimate reason for an abortion, then I have another follow-up scenario for you-
If a woman does something that deliberately puts the fetus at risk to develop birth defects, is that still the case? If she drinks heavily while pregnant and the fetus develops FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome), then is abortion still legitimate? Two common responses would be:

1. "Well, I suppose so. A fetus that will be born to a life like this permanently may be better off not being born at all (as is the case of incest)."
-At this point, if you've given a woman the right to mess up her own pregnancy and the right to get an abortion if the pregnancy is messed up, then you've effectively given every woman the right to an abortion if she does not want to carry the child to term.
I must confess, I don't expect this argument to win many people over though, so we move on to option 2.

2. "Of course not, the woman deliberately enacted behavior that caused the defect (whether that result was intentional or not) and she should have to face the consequences."
However, the question here is- why is the obligation to birth a child based on whether or not the mother is irresponsible? Whether it is intentional or unintentional (alternatively: whether it is a result of the mother's behavior or not) that the child had a birth defect should not matter. In fact, an irresponsible woman would be a far worse candidate for childbirth than the responsible parent.

Following this logic, we can examine the life of a mother case- If you believe that abortion is reasonable if the life of the mother is at risk, what if the mother deliberately makes this the case? Does the abortion remain a plausible option? If not, why? Once again, why should the level of responsibility or the intentions of the mother have any bearing on whether or not the child should be born?
If yes, then following the logic for response #1, you've effectively made a case for all abortions being acceptable by giving the woman the right to put her own life in danger and then the right to an abortion in that circumstance. Why not cut out the middleman?

As such, it's not really very logically consistent to believe in abortion in some cases, but not all cases- (given the logic I've presented you with, at any rate-- I'm willing to take arguments on this)

However, if you're not in favor of abortions in particular circumstances, then we must move on to other arguments- for example:

1. In the case of a woman's life being in danger if the pregnancy is not terminated, why is the life that is not yet capable of thought and reasoning and self-sufficiency worth more than the life that is? Why does the fetus have more of the right to live than the mother?
The only logical answer I can come up with here (and please comment if you can think of another) is if you regard the full potential for life as more worthwhile than a life that is already partially over.

I must say, I don't have much of a response to this other than disagreeing with the conclusion. I believe that the memories and relationships of a life half-lived are just as important as the potentiality for those things from a life not yet lived.

2. Is the sacredness of life completely age dependent? Are there no other factors at all? What if you must face a choice between saving someone who will cure cancer versus their fetus?

At this point, I'd like to interject to note to those unfamiliar with philosophical thought experiments- the point of these questions isn't about how likely the scenarios are- rather the point of the experiments is to determine where you draw the line in the sand, regardless of how practical it is. Once we've determined where you draw the line, the point is to find out why the line is drawn there. If it is drawn for an arbitrary reason, it's probably about time for you to rethink your values so that your ethics aren't based on arbitrary lines. If, however, your line is drawn for a logically consistent reason, then you've already thought out your ethics in full (hint, most people haven't done this).

Going back to argument #2, if you still save the fetus, you're admitting that cumulative life is less important than the potentiality for life in a single person. I don't think I have to tell you why that sounds a little off.
If you pick the cancer researcher, then you've admitted that there are instances in which age is trumped by total good that can be done by the would-be mother. At which point, you have to ask yourself where you draw that line. How much good must a person do before they are worth more as a life than their fetus? Do they have to save at least one life? Or maybe 100? Why do you draw the line where you draw it?
Maybe they don't need to actively save any lives, but what if they're just bringing happiness into everyone else's lives? What if it's a famous comedian who would be missed by many? What if it's a suicide-prevention-hotline responder?

After we've examined your abstract line-in-the-sand, we must then consider how to practically implement those values into societal structures.

At what point does the value of an older person become more than the value of an unborn person?
I shouldn't have to tell you that you can't just "feel" your way around that question when the time comes unless you plan on implementing or supporting a federal system in which each person who seeks abortion has a mathematical rating given to them based on their history and potentiality that rates how much good they may do in the world. Practically speaking, that's pretty impossible.

So who do we give the benefit of the doubt to? Is the fetus going to do more good or the parent?
If you give the benefit of the doubt to the fetus, I would say a great disservice is being done to the mother.
If you give the benefit of the doubt to the mother, congratulations, you've just made a case for allowing abortion.

Bear in mind, that I'm just giving you some logical arguments to mull over. I don't expect this to win over anyone necessarily (although if it does, super!). I just encourage you to think about why you believe the things that you do, and under what circumstances, no matter how extreme, would you be willing to alter your views? And at that point, why?

Of course, I'd initially begun this piece with the intent to bring other issues into it, but I think I'll keep this super short.

If you're the more extreme PL and you're okay with war, you're being inconsistent. You're valuing life only in certain circumstances- and as I pointed out earlier, if you only value life sometimes, then a case can always be made for giving the choice to the mother.
To clarify my meaning, say you believe in war as a method of self-defense. That means you believe that saving yourself is worth taking someone else's life. As such, the mother, whose life is threatened by the fetus, should be able to have an abortion.
If you believe in the good that war can do for preventing human rights violations, for example, you're still of the opinion that taking a life in order to save lives is acceptable, which again, means that saving the mother by terminating the pregnancy can be an appropriate course of action.

If, however, you are pro-war for other reasons, you may just need to rethink things in general. Methinks you're holding different lives to different values and standards, which is pretty inconsistent.

If you're the more extreme PL and you're okay with the death penalty, you are admitting that taking a life is sometimes okay given extreme circumstances. What circumstances are those? Does a person have to commit a murder before deserving death? Two? Four? Where do you draw the line? Why?
If it's just one murder, why does the murderer deserve death when the fetus should not be terminated to save the mother? Is it a matter of intention to cause harm? Why should intention determine whether or not a fetus lives?


Sorry for the big long'n.

Abortion's definitely a sticky issue that I find myself moderate on. Of course, my position is that we should be prolific about contraceptive use and safe-sex education so that abortion is a null issue. In the cases that abortion is an issue, I'm in favor of people taking responsibility for their actions, but I'm also of the opinion that a person's life should not be dictated by a single mistake they made that didn't cause harm to anyone else.


No comments:

Post a Comment