Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Answer these in your head. We'll come back to them:
  1. Maria is five months pregnant. She and her husband José are expecting a baby girl and they are very excited about it. On the way home she stops at the ATM, and is attacked. She begs the mugger not to harm her for the sake of her baby, but nevertheless she is assaulted and battered. As a direct result of the battery she loses the baby. Her attacker pleads guilty to the assault, battery, and robbery, but he is also charged with murder. Do you think he is guilty?
  2. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. However, when a test is done, Maria learns that her baby will be severely deformed. She decides to abort the pregnancy. Do you think that's OK?
  3. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. However, a new scientific test reveals that her child will be gay. She decides to abort the pregnancy. Do you think that's OK?
  4. Maria and José are excited to learn that they are expecting a baby. They visit the doctor and learn that the mother and unborn child are both perfectly healthy. However, they also learn that the baby will be a boy, and Maria had her heart set on a girl.
    1. Although José is just happy to be a father and is unconcerned with the sex of the child, Maria decides on her own to abort the pregnancy,  Do you think that's OK?
    2. José and Maria argue over the incident. She says it was her body and her choice; he says it was his son and that he has procreative rights, too. Jose requests applies for an annulment of their marriage. Who do you think is at fault?


What got me thinking along these lines was a video by Dennis Prager. In it, Prager deliberately sets aside those difficult and ambiguous areas such as rape, incest, and the health of the mother to focus on those things that should be clearest to you... a healthy mother with a healthy fetus, and he does so without any emotional charge. Now, whether you support abortion always, never, or some of the time, you might be surprised that this utmost clear-cut scenario is not as clear as you imagine.

I think Prager does a very good job examining whether or not the abortion of a healthy fetus is moral, and shows that his arguments follow from secular reasoning and not at all from religious dogma and emotionalism. So I have just a few thoughts.

One thing that Prager doesn't elaborate on is that the fetus is not the mother's body. His single clarification is pretty solid: "It's IN her body". But so is her liver, so something further is needed. I invite you to think on this proposed double-blind experiment:
  1. Take DNA samples from the fetus and from any other portion of the mother. 
  2. Send them to separate labs for sequencing (not revealing the source of the DNA). 
  3. Have a third lab compare the DNA sequences and tell you whether they came from the same person. 
What do you imagine the results would show? With nothing but physical evidence and no legalisms, emotionalism, or bias in the way, and excluding microchimerism (the exchange of a few cells due to a shared environment) would the lab pronounce these samples as having come from the same person? [1]

I would discuss personhood here, but it was Prager's specific intent to present his case without all those pesky grey areas. But in debating it with myself I found it not feasible to come up with a definition of personhood that simultaneously covered everyone we can all agree is a person except a fetus unless I specifically excluded the fetus.

Thoughts about Scenario 1

Scenario 1 isn't entirely hypothetical. Most states have fetal homicide laws, and a Federal law called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act treats the killing of an infant as a homicide in all 50 states if it occurs in conjunction with the commission of a Federal crime. Twelve states do not have such laws. This was highlighted in a recent case in Colorado where a woman, eight months pregnant, was stabbed in the belly, killing her unborn child. The assailant was not charged with murder.

Recall your own thoughts about Scenario 1. Should this be murder? Either the situation in Colorado is wrong and the assailant should have been charged, or the situation in the 38 remaining states is wrong, and no one should be charged with killing a fetus. Nevertheless, fetal homicide laws have passed with broad bipartisan support in 38 states, including California,

Where this gets dicey in regarding abortion is that, regarding the loss of the fetus, the major difference is that in an abortion the mother doesn't want the baby. In that case, abortion proponents say that the fetus "is the mother's body" and the its loss is no more traumatic than that of an appendix. However, in the case of an attack, many of these very same abortion proponents are in favor of calling the loss of the fetus "murder". This is despite the fact that, if the fetus is not a person, then we cannot logically call its death a homicide any than we could that of a hand or foot that's lost in an attack.

Many abortion proponents had the consistency to oppose the Unborn Victims of Violence Act using similar reasoning. However, you'll find that they weren't so concerned with the actual principle of whether it was a life as they were about how it might affect abortion. Then-Senator John Kerry provided a representative summation in a form letter to his constituents. In it he wrote, "I believe that an attack on a pregnant woman should carry increased penalties. However, legislation granting a fetus the same legal status in all stages of development as a human being is not the appropriate response. I have serious concerns about this legislation because the law cannot simultaneously provide that a fetus is a human being and protect the right of the mother to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Therefore, I do not support the Unborn Victims of Violence Act." While denying the personhood of the fetus, Kerry fails to provide any justification for increased penalties.

Here's what I think. I think he knows it's murder, and he cites increased penalties because he knows it, and to appease those of his constituents who vocally affirm it. However, he was motivated in great degree by concern that curtailing a malicious act might prevent others from performing the very same act dispassionately, and that calling it murder in one instance would reveal it to be murder in the other. Increased penalties cannot be logically justified because the attempt reveals the same thing.

Thoughts about Scenarios 2 and 3

As presented by me, these scenarios are intended to present the same situation: Maria aborts the child for some reason. Since abortion proponents I'm writing of are those who hold that she should be able to do so for any reason, the specifics shouldn't matter to them, ever.  And yet, I bet they do. At least, they have so far in conversation.
Let me take an aside and say that if you should write or comment saying that they did -- or more especially did not -- matter to you, I'm afraid I can't weigh it very strongly against my expectations, which are formed over years of personal interactions. The reason is (and I hope you can appreciate this as fact rather than insult) that I have no reason to believe that you're not lying about it, even to yourself. The only way I could have to check the validity of your statement is if I had asked the question and received answers first, before moving on with the rest of this discussion. Since that didn't happen, and you had the opportunity to read the whole post and consider a rebuttal, including retconning your answers to match your ideology, I just have to leave it to you as to whether your answers conflict with your stated views. I can't really accept as reliable testimony a claim that they weren't. Perhaps someday I or someone else will conduct the discussion in just that way and we can see.
If you're like most Liberals, you'll find one of these a lot easier to answer than the other. Many people would spare a severely handicapped child the difficulties of life with a disability. Still others try to reconcile their acceptance of the "differently abled" by stating that it shouldn't be allowed. Still others have an apparent logical meltdown and state that aborting a handicapped child should be allowed only if you would have aborted it if it were healthy (which completely dismantles the idea that a mother can choose and abortion for any reason or that you can have a reason for an exception based on the health of the child).

You'll find a much better answer to that dilemma here [LINK], which can be summed up in this paragraph:
If this moral precept were not true, all so-called moral dilemmas would be easily soluble by simply appealing to one's own relief from suffering. But in such a world the antidote would be worse than the poison, for people would then have a right to inflict suffering on another if it relieved them of their own. This would be morally intolerable.
Abortion proponents should have no discomfort with this scenario, as "any reason" means "any reason"... and yet many do have a problem with reasons other than those they themselves would sanction.

Scenario 3, aborting a gay baby, isn't discussed much except, oddly, among conservatives, but it's one that liberals really should ponder. Remember, I'm not asking whether it should be legal, but whether it's OK.

Remember, too, that it is not only the accepted view of many that homosexuality is determined at birth (see the video), but that it is determined by genetics. If there were a test for that gene, would you be OK with a mother who uses it to prevent the birth of gay children?

The intellectually consistent response is "any reason" means "any reason" and to have no reaction to this additional information. And yet, while searching through various forums I've found only a very few abortion proponents who respond in that consistent fashion. Mostly, the proposition is either handwaved away with "that would never happen", or manages to spark ire and heated debates deflected completely away from the actual question, I think it's clear that the idea that it could happen reveals an emotional response that belies an internal struggle. I think that those who feel that struggle should not only examine what they believe, but whether it's right.

Anti-abortionists have no moral dilemma, by contrast. They do not value one fetus preferentially over another, but apply their principles equally.

Thoughts about Scenario 4

My purpose in presenting Scenario 4 was to get you thinking about whether José has any parental rights. In a legal sense, for males fatherhood has largely become all responsibility and no rights.

Certainly, if the baby were born, José would have responsibility of child support, even if he knew nothing of the child's existence. Even a private contract agreed to and proposed by the mother cannot give him assurance. He has no say whatsoever in aborting a baby that the mother wants but he does not, and will be forced to give up a large share of his income for the next 18 to 21 years despite his wishes, with no recourse. And if the mother does not want the child he has no recourse for compelling its birth, although the imposition upon her is a mere 9 months.

In Scenario 4.2, José and Maria's marriage is ended, and I ask who is at fault. This is of course a matter of opinion, but you may want to ponder why a man should remain in a relationship where it is clearly demonstrated that he has no place in decision-making authority; where his joy at expecting a son can be tossed aside as irrelevant with the callous disregard exemplified by the words, "It's her body." That may be her body, but only in a civil marriage does this deny a man rights.

Every responsibility has (or should have) accompanying rights. The American colonists fought an entire war of independence based on the idea that taxation without representation -- or in other words, responsibility without rights -- is tyrannical [2]. Why then should José not leave this tyrannical situation to find another woman... in his eyes, a better woman... who believes as he does that in a marriage a man and a woman are joined "as one flesh" and that as a result, all important decisions should be made jointly?

Personally, I say they share what "fault" there is to be had. They should have explicitly discussed exactly this sort of thing before they got married, and if either of them had detected attitudes in the other that would leave them as less than a full partner, they should have put the brakes on the marriage. "Love" has only a little to do with it. You can be infatuated with someone who isn't your proper mate. Marriage is a whole lot more than that. True love is caring for someone else more than you do yourself. So when it comes to the immediate cause of their dissolution, I think it's an easy choice. "It's my body" is an argument that could sway even the Catholic church to annul such a marriage on the grounds that Maria suffered from a "grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted". A civil marriage would never end in divorce on such grounds, of course; but it wouldn't need to. Civil marriages are by comparison lightly undertaken and lightly cast aside. For instance, in South Carolina, just leaving will do it. Seeking annulment allows both he and Maria to be re-married within their Church, and is a compassionate solution, not a hateful one.

A personal struggle

I'm a little more vocal on this subject than I have been in the past, as the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced of the immorality of abortion. At one point I accepted the argument that as a male I have no credible say in this matter. That's untrue. As human beings we have equal say in the matter of procreation, and if you disagree with that, then it is you who are being oppressive, not I.

Then I accepted the argument that it should be left to the individual. That's also untrue. In matters of life and death, a just society has always favored the helpless. We don't allow the murder of adults, and we give special protection to children who are unable to fend for themselves. There is no one less capable of self-defense than a child in the womb. That child should be defended when the mother is attacked, and also when the mother attacks.

Part of this is surely to make sure that unwanted children are not conceived. So contraception, I think, is essential. But so are morals. So is the promotion of a decent family structure where children are born into welcoming families and fathers are not driven away as if they were irrelevant except for their utility as ATMs. And so is acceptance of responsibility. This means more than a man shouldn't lie with a woman unless he is prepared to "pay up" for failed contraception; it also means that a woman shouldn't lie with a man unless she is prepared to be intimately involved with him for very many years. Face-to-face, and not as a line item deduction on a paycheck stub. I think it is important that when we promote the value of Fatherhood that we not be limited to lip service, but we make that value achievable.

This isn't something that is or should be limited to religious individuals. Everyone should ask themselves if abortion and the casual disregard for life and family and community and cooperation that accompanies it is something they should be supporting. In those areas where we have needed improvement over the past, we should improve. People must be treated with equality across the board, which is, after all, simply putting our lofty rhetoric of the past into action. But in changing society we have thrown away many practices that were objectively better, and we should either return to them or find out where we went wrong in our attempt to improve them.

I'm going to leave you with this TED talk by Sam Harris. Whether you're religious or not, it will not be what you expect. Please set aside 20 minutes and watch.

(Sam Harris. Filmed Feb 2010.)

[1] You could hear the argument that a mother and fetus literally are a chimera (a single organism composed of genetically distinct cells.")  However, the constituent parts of a chimera do not spontaneously separate and become distinct organisms. Pregnancy is quite different.

[2] When I presented this argument to someone, he attempted to deflect the discussion into one of slavery. My response was as follows: "Slavery is wrong, and except for prison it has been abolished for 150 years. That said, why shouldn't José leave a situation that you yourself just equated with slavery?"

His response was very good: "Isn't Christian marriage slavery, where the wife is 'subjugated'?" 

He's referring to Ephesians 5:22-33 where a Christian marriage is described and the phrase "one flesh" is used. My response was to point out the context and language, both in the scripture and in what I said.
  • First, in a Christian marriage a wife is not "subjugated". She submits herself (willingly) to the husband, for reasons you can read for yourself in the link. Furthermore, a Christian husband is to love his wife "even as himself", and that precludes being dictatorial. He is to be the head of the family "as Christ is the head of the church," which indicates servant leadership (and do follow that link!). If he's a dictator, he's doing it wrong. So no, a Christian marriage is absolutely nothing like slavery.
  • Second, I used that phrase because in my example Maria and José happen to be Catholic. But the argument doesn't require a "Christian marriage" to hold water. If any man and woman do not agree on something so basic as whether and how they will have offspring, why should they not find more compatible partners who do agree on these basic things? 
You'll find that my argument relies in no measure on subjugation, but on an equal partnership.

Image credits:
  • http://ishmaeel.deviantart.com/art/Baby-Pictogram-216729085

No comments:

Post a Comment