Abortion

Someone suggested that since I hinted at it in the previous post (the comment about protecting embryos), I should go ahead and post my opinions about abortion. I know that a post on this topic is incredibly unlikely to change anybody’s mind, but perhaps some might find it interesting. And, I’ve already posted on politics and religion and haven’t managed to alienate everybody yet, so I have to keep trying!

First, let me say that I think a pregnancy is a very special thing and
the chance to bring a human being into the world should be taken  very seriously. I hope I’ve made it clear that I value human life tremendously, especially that of children, and I think there is plenty of room in our society for more children who will be raised well by eager, competent, parents (and I think there are many such candidates for adoption if the parents don’t qualify on this score). So, I’m all for taking pregnancies to term and delivering babies.

But, it seems to me, if you take people’s rights seriously you have to take the rights of the pregnant woman seriously and acknowledge that the decision to continue a pregnancy must be hers (at least at the early stages). At that point, she’s the only human being involved. A fertilized egg might be a potential human being, but until its brain begins to operate as born humans’ brains do, it isn’t a human being yet.*

So, should the law prohibit abortions after that point, assuming we could analyze fetal brain activity well enough to determine if this sort of activity is present?

No.

While I think this would be the right test to determine if the fetus is human, I don’t think it’s the right test to determine whether the state should prohibit abortions. I think that test should be viability: when the baby could be delivered alive with excellent chances for the safety of both the mother and child.

To understand why, consider this thought experiment:

Suppose somebody had a fatal disease, and the only way for them to be cured would be for a particular person, you, to be hooked up to a machine for nine months while some kind of transfusion process occurred. While hooked up to the machine, your autonomy would be severely limited; you couldn’t do everything you wanted, you would be ill part of the time, you’d have to limit what you consumed, etc. At the end of the transfusion you’d have to undergo a separation procedure that would be traumatic, painful, and somewhat dangerous.

Should you be forced to submit to this process? If you decided to go ahead, should you be forbidden from separating early? Even if it would mean certain death for the dependent person? 

I think the answer is that, even if it costs a human life, you should be free to separate from the machine. And, I think this is similar to the situation of a pregnant woman. It’s her body, she should be able to control it, even if a dependent human will die if she chooses to end her pregnancy before it is viable. But, once the other person is viable, I don’t think one should be able to separate in such a way to ensure his death; in that case, the separation should be done so as to preserve his life.

I know that some people think that these situations are not analogous. They say they are different because the woman caused the fetus’ dependency. This is true, in a way, but it isn’t so simple. It’s not the case that she caused the fetus to change from an independent person to a dependent one. On the contrary, she caused it to change from a non-existent state to a dependent one. If she owes it something, it’s to return it to its state of non-existence.

So, using this argument, I think we can side-step the question of when the fetus becomes a human being and declare that it’s only after the fetus becomes viable that abortion would be murder. Until that point, I think it is the, possibly regrettable, legitimate exercise of individual liberty.

*As an aside, I thought I’d just mention how incredibly unpersuasive I find the “argument” that a fetus is a human being because we can recognize fingers and toes in a fetal image. This is an absurdity of Pythonian proportions:

“How do you know she’s a witch person?”
“SHE LOOKS LIKE ONE!”

76 thoughts on “Abortion

  1. Gil,

    You’re right. It doesn’t matter if he was a field mouse when he came in, as long as he’s a human now. I just don’t consider a fetus a human now. That ‘s how I can morally distinguish between a fetus in a woman’s body and an unwanted human in my house.

    But I will concede that my position on when humanness starts is just as subjective as yours. Again, I choose to err on the side of the host. The hardcore pro-lifers would say humanness (I like that word) starts at conception, you say it starts at a certain degree of brain activity (How do you know it is a human? Its neurons fire like one!) and I say it starts when you are born. Don’t the Catholics think that it starts at the sperm level? I learned that from a Monty Python movie. “Every sperm is sacred…”

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  2. NQSRLB,

    “I notice when debating with me, both Gil and Bill refer to the fetus as a child. ”

    Whoops, you’re right. Habit, I guess; I usually am arguing against pro-life people, and usually use “child” rather than “fetus” so I don’t annoy them.

    “Don’t ask me if I think a woman should have the right to an abortion after her water breaks. You’re not going to like the answer. I know, I’m a monster.”

    Not a monster, but I do disagree. The idea that the mother has the right, not just to remove the fetus, but to kill it, seems quite unintuitive after the water breaks. I would think you would have to provide a somewhat sophisticated argument for that position; it isn’t self-evident to me.

    The fetus isn’t really any different between the day before birth and the day after birth. It should have the same rights in both situations. It certainly hasn’t gone through any rights-altering change during the birth. All that has happened is that it was removed from the mother.

    You might argue that it did go through a rights-altering change sometime between conception and birth (so that abortion is okay early on, no matter what, as Gil said above).

    You also might argue that it doesn’t really have rights even after birth (so killing your own infant isn’t murder, as Peter Singer argues). If you don’t, this “after the water breaks” scenario seems quite analogous to the “Gil-in-your-house” scenario. Directly before and directly after birth, the fetus has the right not to be destroyed if it can be removed just as easily.

    (Heck, people have called me a monster, as I pretty much support your “abortion until financially independent” conclusion. I claim the mother has the right to give up guardianship at any time, even if no one else volunteers to care for the (already born) child, and the child will therefore die as a result. No one has the right to a guardian, even though one is necessary for survival.)

    “But what if you had your Star Trek machine that could transport eggs and sperm from people without them having to veer from the course of their daily lives? Is it now okay to take it all against their will? ”

    My position is: sperm and eggs are property (and can’t be taken). Unimplanted embryos are property. An implanted embryo is a ward, and has the rights of a child, though not the rights of an adult. So implantation is more important than conception, birth or brain functioning. (This is the “location, location, location” concept of when something starts to have rights, and I’m not at all sure it is true.)

    “But, sadly, I don’t think I have the right to kill him unless he’s directly threatening my life ”

    I disagree. If you want him out of your house and he refuses, then you have the right to force him out. If you can’t force him out while he is alive, you should legally be able to kill him in order to remove him. (And you call yourself a monster. Ha! :-).

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  3. Hey,

    I realize that I started it, but can we switch the analogy to a burglar in the house?

    All this talk about killing me is making me uncomfortable.

    Thanks!

    (I’m really just kidding)

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  4. “But I will concede that my position on when humanness starts is just as subjective as yours.”

    I’m not sure that any of the positions we’ve taken are subjective, unless it is based on some sort of “icky” feeling. If you can argue about it, it isn’t purely subjective. I don’t even think they are arbitrary, as I think we have arguments for our positions.

    I believe, broadly speaking, in one right; the right to be left alone. I know arguments that say rights begin at the following points, in chronological order,

    – conception

    – implantation

    – independent movement

    – brain activity

    – birth

    – actual “person-like” powers (conceptual thought, rather than perceptual thought like animals have)

    Legally, I like implantation. The idea is that the woman can refuse to let the fetus implant, but once she does, she can’t just let it go with impunity. (It is the difference in American football between an incomplete pass and a fumble; not catching the ball is different than dropping the ball).

    “(How do you know it is a human? Its neurons fire like one!)”

    I don’t think that movement or brain activity is a good cut-off line for “has rights” vs. “doesn’t have rights”. Dogs and cats have brain activity and move, but they (pretty much) don’t have rights. The fetus’s brain activity and movement are not different from those of dogs and cats, so I don’t see why, if it didn’t have rights before, it would have rights after. (As I said of my daughter, two months after conception, “It’s as dumb as a fish.”)

    Conceptual thought, a uniquely human power, doesn’t develop until long after birth, I believe (although if you know otherwise, please tell me! I’ve been looking for evidence of this for a while now, and can’t find any), so that isn’t a good cut-off, since it would claim that young children have only the rights of dogs or cats, and that doesn’t seem right.

    Starting at conception doesn’t work; an embryo, if left on its own, it won’t grow into a person. It still requires a person’s intervention (allowing it to be implanted). You might argue that, if left alone, a normally conceived embryo would implant on its own. But it isn’t “on it’s own,” it needs to implant in the mother’s body, and the mother can prevent that if she wants to.

    Only at implantation, if left alone, will the embryo grow into a person. That, I think, is a good place to give it some rights. Not the right to the mother’s body, but the right to be left alone in many ways, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights. If the mother doesn’t want it there, it is infringing on her right to be left alone, and can thus be forcibly removed.

    This has the form of a “potentiality” argument, that has been savaged in the following way. 1) I have the potential to be president of the US. 2) That fact doesn’t give me the same rights as the president. 3) Therefore, just because a fetus is a potential person doesn’t give it the same rights as a person.

    I don’t have an answer to this.

    It isn’t so strange that “borderline” persons have some limited rights. After I die, my organs are still mine, and you can’t take them unless I gave you permission, even though I am no longer a person. So some rights extend (for a limited time, in a limited way) past death, why can’t they extend (for a limited time, in a limited way) before birth?

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  5. “The fetus isn’t really any different between the day before birth and the day after birth. It should have the same rights in both situations. It certainly hasn’t gone through any rights-altering change during the birth. All that has happened is that it was removed from the mother.”

    What is a rights-altering change? Some say pre-conception, some say conception, some say birthand some even say after birth. My point is that is subjective to your agenda. My agenda is maximum human rights, so by not calling it a human until after it is born, you would eliminate most rights conflicts between mother and fetus and wouldn’t have to fall back on such yardsticks as safety and convenience. After all, if both mother and fetus are human then why should the mother’s safety take precident? Shouldn’t it be a coin toss?

    I suppose this makes my arguement not so much a moral one, but a convenient linguistic one. But I can live with that. Really.

    “You might argue that it did go through a rights-altering change sometime between conception and birth (so that abortion is okay early on, no matter what, as Gil said above). ”

    I can probably live with this thinking also, but deciding when that right-altering change takes place will always feel arbitrary to me. Should we set a precise standard for how much brain activity constitutes human? And once it is considered legally human many would argue (and already do) that its safety is more important than the mother’s since the child is an innocent and the mother is at least partially responsible for getting herself into an unsafe situation. This is the part that scares me.

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  6. “After all, if both mother and fetus are human then why should the mother’s safety take precedence?”

    The fetus has no right to the mother’s body. QED.

    “And once it is considered legally human many would argue (and already do) that its safety is more important than the mother’s since the child is an innocent and the mother is at least partially responsible for getting herself into an unsafe situation.”

    And they would be wrong. I think the fetus has a right to be left alone, and I clearly reject the rest of that argument.

    Would I want, in our current political/legal climate, that an implanted fetus be declared human and be given full human rights? No, but that is because I do not agree with the current idea of “human rights”, not because I think the fetus has no rights.

    “Some say pre-conception, some say conception, some say birth and some even say after birth. My point is that is subjective to your agenda.”

    But you would expect that, if you and I believe the same general things about what should be legal and illegal, that we should come to the same conclusions.

    I am for maximum human freedom, and I suspect you are too. I think we are starting from the same place, but getting different results. I want to know why, so that if I’m wrong, I can fix it.

    I do have a position about abortion. I think it should be legal almost all the time, and is unethical almost all the time. However, I am not arguing in order to get these conclusions; my arguments should stand on their own, starting from ideas from libertarian politics of negative rights, guardian-ward theory, etc. That is what led me to my position.

    Currently, we disagree about the rights of a fetus. If the fetus has rights, then (I believe) you agree with most of what I have said (so if Gil were inside a person’s womb, we couldn’t necessarily kill him, just remove him … oh I forgot, he doesn’t want us to argue like that :-). But that doesn’t matter, since you have claimed that the fetus has no rights before birth.

    I cannot get my mind around the idea that the child has rights the day after birth but does not the day before, since there just isn’t that much difference between the two. I would want to hear an argument, based on maximum human freedom, that the day-before fetus not only has no right to the mother’s body, but no rights at all.

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  7. First of all, if Gil were inside any womb but one, we wouldn’t have to kill him, his wife would do it for us.

    Let’s try looking at this from the other direction for a minute. Not what rights does the fetus have, but what rights does the mother give up by having a fetus in her. Can she smoke? Can she do drugs? Can she commit suicide? Can she throw herself down the stairs? What if she gets a craving for abortion pills? Can she take them by the handful?

    I say, “sure.”

    If you get hooked up to someone’s transfusion machine, you probably will have these things covered in the contract. If not then have at it. Some people think a mother has entered into an implied contract with her fetus even if she didn’t want it there in the first place. And if she does, who decides the terms?

    To me it’s not so much what is the physical difference in the baby, the day before or the day after it is born. It’s more that the mother can do whatever she wants to her own body on both days. And so can the baby for that matter. That’s what I mean by maximum human freedom.

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  8. NQSRLB,

    Normally a person can do what he wants on his property. You can swing a baseball bat, or throw a knife, for example. But if there’s another person in the path of your bat or knife you’d be guilty of a moral crime.

    You have a right to demand that an unwanted visitor leave, but you don’t and shouldn’t have the right to kill or injure him just because he’s on your property unless he’s posing an imminent threat to you or your property.

    Same with a woman with a human baby in her.

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  9. We’re just going to keep going around in circles on this. You think the fetus has the rights of the unwanted visitor one second after it has a certain degree of electricity moving through its brain but not one second before. I think it’s human when it stops breathing through its belly button.

    If it only has five seconds to go before sufficient brain activity, can a woman still abort or is it reasonable for the state to force her to wait?

    I submit that my position is no more right than yours, it is just the way I would write the law and let people obey their own conscience on the tough pre-birth calls.

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  10. NQSRLB,

    I think that the difference between our positions is that I’m trying to figure out when there is an objective reason to ascribe human-like moral value to the fetus so that we can do the right thing, and you seem more interested in when it’s convenient.

    I think convenience is very important, but sometimes it’s not the most important thing.

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  11. I think the underlying difference in our approach to this subject is that you believe there is an objective point at which human-like moral value should be ascribed to the fetus and I believe that there are only subjective ones, albeit some seeming more reasonable than others.

    The reason why the appearance of fetal brainwaves isn’t going to do it for me is because even though it’s a very human-like characteristic, it’s still all about potential, just like the appearance of opposable thumbs. I’m pretty sure you ascribe more rights to humans than to animals because of our much greater ability to reason, our levels of complicated thought, etc., but a full grown mountain gorilla has a greater ability to reason, and thinks on a much higher level than a fetus and even a newborn human. So I say that even after it’s born, we ascribe rights to babies based solely on their potential. We even ascribe these rights to people who we know will never even reach this potential or who had it and lost it (people with severe retardation, brain damage, etc.)

    Any point you pick between conception (or even pre-conception) and the attainment of this potential is going to be based on subjective criteria. Even “conception” sounds more objective than, “this much brain activity.”

    I choose birth based on certain subjective criteria, not the least of which is convenience and freedom for the mother, but perhaps I pick age zero for essentially the same reason Cool Hand Luke decided to eat fifty eggs. It seemed like a nice, round number.

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  12. “Can she smoke? Can she do drugs? Can she commit suicide? Can she throw herself down the stairs? What if she gets a craving for abortion pills? Can she take them by the handfull?

    “I say, “sure.” ”

    I do to, with one caveat. If the mother is the guardian of the fetus, she must act in its interest. However, she can give up guardianship at any time, and after that, she can do any of the above, as long as she doesn’t infringe the fetus’s right to be left alone (on that, see below; the fetus’s rights are heavily compromised because it is infringing on the mother’s rights). She, for example, doesn’t have the right to strap C-4 to her body and blow herself up, taking out the neighbors with her; that would be illegal.

    If no other guardians come forward, then the fetus is as good as dead anyway, so an abortion would be legal. If killing the child is legal, then all the actions above would be legal as well, it seems.

    “Some people think a mother has entered into an implied contract with her fetus even if she didn’t want it there in the first place. And if she does, who decides the terms?”

    I don’t know about a contract, but my position would be that the mother could opt out of guardianship at any time, so it would be a strange kind of contract. However, the terms, according to libertarian guardian-ward theory, are that a guardian must act in the best interest of the ward, and can only give up guardianship after a public announcement.

    “It’s more that the mother can do whatever she wants to her own body on both days. And so can the baby for that matter.”

    A helpful libertarian idea is that once someone infringes on your rights, they lose their right to be left alone, but not entirely. You are legally allowed to use the minimum force necessary to stop them from infringing your rights, but no more.

    So if you think the baby has rights at all (as you seem to in the quoted sentence), then the mother’s freedom to act on the little parasite 🙂 is limited to the minimum force required to stop the baby infringing on her rights. Again, this points to removal, not killing.

    If you think the fetus has no rights, then all bets are off; the mother can do anything she likes at any time. However, it is not obvious at all that the fetus has no rights, so you need to argue it.

    “a full grown mountain gorilla has a greater ability to reason, and thinks on a much higher level than a fetus and even a newborn human.”

    And similar brain activity; I have seen no evidence that a newborn has the power of conceptual thought that separates us from animals. So, I think that brain activity, like independent movement, is not a good cut-off point; as you say, conception has better arguments (although they, I believe, are flawed as well); I argued above for implantation being a good cut-off; what do you think about that?

    “Any point you pick between conception (or even pre-conception) and the attainment of this potential is going to be based on subjective criteria.”

    Nope. I’ve argued that implantation is better than birth, since there really isn’t that much difference between day-before-birth and day-after-birth, whereas there is a difference between day-before-implantation (will not grow to be a person if left alone) and day-after-implantation (may grow to be a person if left alone). I may be wrong, but this is not just a subjective or arbitrary judgment.

    “I choose birth based on certain subjective criteria, not the least of which is convenience and freedom for the mother”

    This is not a subjective or arbitrary criteria; claiming that someone has a right to their body is something you certainly can argue about, and many have. It may be wrong, but there are arguments for and against it.

    You have argued for birth being the cut-off point using the following arguments.

    1) Until birth, the fetus is totally dependent on the mother, therefore has no rights.

    2) Maximum freedom is attained when the fetus has no rights until birth.

    (1) is false (see above). (2) is false as well: if you assume the fetus’s freedom doesn’t matter, you are assuming what you want to prove. If you maximize the freedom of both the mother and the fetus, you get my position. Your position isn’t necessarily wrong, but you need better arguments.

    As for the cut-off point for rights, I gave counterarguments to conception, independent movement, brain activity, birth, and conceptual thought. Do you have any more arguments to add?

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  13. “This isn’t exactly the core of my position. I believe the fetus has no rights because it’s not human. It’s a potential human.”

    (I am going to switch from “human” to “person” if you don’t mind; one is a biological distinction, the other a moral and legal distinction).

    But you are arguing that at birth, a potential person becomes a person? I don’t think so. If you mean having all powers of a person, a newborn child isn’t a person, only a potential person (as you have argued). The question, therefore, is not whether or not the fetus is a potential person, as you are happy to give rights to potential persons (e.g. newborns). The question is when does a potential person have rights at all (here, we are talking about the minimal right not to be destroyed on a whim)?

    So the core of your position is not “It’s a potential human.” Since your position isn’t that, and it isn’t what I said before, what is it?

    I say that potential persons have (limited) rights, but only if they can grow into persons if left alone. I think that makes a certain amount of sense; the ability to grow into a person if left alone gives you some access to the right to be left alone (which is the only legal right libertarians recognize). Does it not make some sense to you?

    “but is right and ours are both wrong?”

    That is what I am trying to argue. We can’t all be right, but we might all be wrong.

    “I don’t think you are right or wrong about this.”

    I disagree 🙂

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  14. Bill,

    “But you are arguing that at birth, a potential person becomes a person? I don’t think so. If you mean having all powers of a person, a newborn child isn’t a person, only a potential person (as you have argued).”

    I like using “person” instead of “human” because I am simply talking about what I’d like the law to be. I don’t want to have to argue that at birth, a potential person becomes a person. I want us both to already know that by definition :-).

    I argued that newborns are only potential people using Gil’s logic, not mine. I never used brain activity, or any other powers as criteria for determining rights. I don’t think I’ve yet reached my potential, as far as human powers go, but I’d still like to be considered a person. At least legally.

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  15. Bill,

    “That word; I don’t think it means what you think it means :-).”

    You’re challenging my use of the word “subjective?” Inconceivable!

    I don’t really have more arguments for birth being the “right” cutoff time, but I can clarify a little.

    “1) Until birth, the fetus is totally dependent on the mother, therefore has no rights.

    2) Maximum freedom is attained when the fetus has no rights until birth.”

    This isn’t exactly the core of my position. I believe the fetus has no rights because it’s not human. It’s a potential human. This would negate any burglar-in-the-house analogies. Now, how we choose to legally define human can be argued, but I don’t think a fertilized egg is any more human because technology has advanced to the point where it can safely be transferred to a willing host. If the definition of human is a potential human that can safely be transferred from one host to another, then it is human even before the egg is fertilized (its just split in two.)

    “If no other guardians come forward, then the fetus is as good as dead anyway, so an abortion would be legal. If killing the child is legal, then all the actions above would be legal as well, it seems.”

    I have a question about this. Let’s say someone abandons a severely retarded guy on your doorstep and he wanders into your house. This guy is so mentally challenged that he can’t even feed himself. If he can be safely extracted from your house unharmed, but no one comes forward to take care of him, can you kill him in your house? He’s just going to starve to death anyway.

    By subjective, I mean, modified or affected by personal views. I may be using it incorrectly, but I’m going to continue to do so because I can’t think of a better word to use. I don’t want to use the word “arbitrary” because I’m sure it doesn’t mean what I mean to mean.

    “Nope. I’ve argued that implantation is better than birth, since there really isn’t that much difference between day-before-birth and day-after-birth, whereas there is a difference between day-before-implantation (will not grow to be a person if left alone) and day-after-implantation (may grow to be a person if left alone). I may be wrong, but this is not just a subjective or arbitrary judgment.”

    I would argue that this entire statement is subjective. (If you can think of a better word here than “subjective,” I’d be happy to use it.)

    What do you mean by “much difference?” Do you mean there are more differences in the latter than the former? The amount of differences in both cases approaches infinity. Some of these differences may seem insignificant to you, so I really don’t think this is what you’re talking about.

    You must mean more important differences. More important to whom? Probably not the fetus. I’d venture to guess that he sees a much bigger difference between the day-before-birth and the day-after-birth than the day-before-implantation and the day-after-implantation.

    More important to most people? I’ve heard people talk about the birth of their child as the most important day of their lives, but I’ve never heard anything about the day that their child could be successfully transferred from one host to another, or the day their child was independently viable, but possibly the day their child was conceived.

    Important to human rights? This would depend on how you define “human.” I see it is as birth, Gil sees it as a certain degree of brain activity, and you see it as when it can be safely removed from its original mother and grown elsewhere if there is someone willing to care for it and pay for everything. I can objectively say that your definition is the longest, but is it right and ours are both wrong?

    I don’t think you are right or wrong about this. I think the use of the word “important” in this case is inherently (insert replacement for subjective here) even if you have plenty of reasons and arguments to explain your position. My girlfriend has plenty of arguments to defend her position that chocolate is the perfect food. Maybe she’s right.

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  16. Allow me a moment of exceeding denseness here. If I am being insulting or stupid, let me know.

    You say that rights begin at birth. You give no reason for this at all.

    You define a person as one that has been born, and a potential person as one who has not. So the whole potential person statement does not give a reason for your position, it is a restatement of your position: fetuses are defined (not argued) to be potential people, newborns are defined (not argued) to be people.

    Do I have this right?

    “I don’t think I’ve yet reached my potential, as far as human powers go”

    You have; you will never be more of a person than you are now. You will probably be a better person in many ways as time goes on, but not any more of a person. Not so for a fetus or a newborn (or a dog, for that matter); they are different from us in kind, not just degree.

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  17. “You define a person as one that has been born, and a potential person as one who has not. So the whole potential person statement does not give a reason for your position, it is a restatement of your position: fetuses are defined (not argued) to be potential people, newborns are defined (not argued) to be people.

    Do I have this right?”

    Yes, you have this right. The definition itself is only a legal representation of my position, not the reasons themselves.

    “You have; you will never be more of a person than you are now. You will probably be a better person in many ways as time goes on, but not any more of a person. Not so for a fetus or a newborn (or a dog, for that matter); they are different from us in kind, not just degree.”

    I wasn’t trying to make the point that I’m still a potential person. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that even a newborn isn’t a potential person anymore. He will never become more of a person than he is now, both by my legal definition, the current legal definition, and your legal definition. You take it further to say that a fertilized human egg that can be safely transferred to a willing, and paying, parent will also never become any more of a person than it is now. This is the crux of our disagreement.

    “You say that rights begin at birth. You give no reason for this at all.”

    I have given reasons, just none that you find compelling.

    I don’t like the state mandating any forced medical procedure on any non-criminal (my position on forced medical experiments on murderers is far different, but this is another topic.)

    I don’t like the state forcing a woman to declare her pregnancy.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you say that under current medical technology, abortion should be legal for two basic reasons: It’s unreasonable to force a woman to undergo a live extraction if abortion is safer, and nine months is an unreasonable amount of time to force a woman to wait to undergo a live birth.

    So lets put those two factors, safety and time, under one larger umbrella called “convenience.” Why should these be the only two factors of convenience? What about privacy? What about peace of mind? Some women don’t want the mental anguish of living the rest of their lives knowing they have a child out there somewhere.

    I think a woman should have the right to take an abortion pill at home for no other reason than she doesn’t want her parents to find out about it. Why is this any less of a convenience right than the right to not have to be pregnant for nine months? What if she only had to stay pregnant for three months in order to perform a safe live extraction? Is this a reasonable amount of time to force her to wait? What about one month? What about five minutes? Wherever you choose to draw the line of time convenience, isn’t it subjective or arbitrary or whatever you want to call it?

    And if I’m mistaken, and time isn’t an issue for you, just safety, than isn’t live birth reasonably safe now? How much safer would it have to get in order to justifiably force a woman to undergo the procedure? 10% safer? 20% safer? You may think there is an objective, absolute right amount of safety in order to take away the woman’s right to choose, but I don’t.

    And I don’t believe an unwanted fetus in your body is exactly the same as an unwanted person in your home.

    For the sake of argument, let’s stop comparing the fetus to a burglar and compare it to an abandoned child whom you find chained to your toilet. The authorities inform you that he’s chained in such a way that it will take a couple of hours to safely remove him. Can you kill the kid, or should they force you to wait? What if he’s been somehow surgically attached to your toilet and it will take nine months to safely remove him? Now can you kill him?

    What if it’s not a time issue but a safety issue for your home? What if they can’t remove the kid without destroying a good portion of your home? Is this the same as not being able to safely remove a fetus without destroying a good portion of the mother’s body? If your rights regarding your property and your body have the same value in your argument, then the answer is, yes, it is the same thing. Go ahead and hack the kid’s arm off so you can use your john in peace.

    And what if no one comes forward to claim the kid and offer to pay for your damages and inconvenience? Now can you kill the kid chained to your toilet?

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  18. Me: “You say that rights begin at birth. You give no reason for this at all.”

    You: “I have given reasons, just none that you find compelling.”

    So I have totally misunderstood your position then, and I’m sorry.

    Do the following two reasons cover all your reasons?

    “I don’t like the state mandating any forced medical procedure on any non-criminal …

    I don’t like the state forcing a woman to declare her pregnancy.”

    If so, and you believe in maximum liberty, you have assumed that the fetus has no rights. For example, if the fetus has the rights of a newborn, both of these reasons are invalid (minimum force necessary to remove, and responsibility of guardians, respectively).

    So your reasons are based on the idea that fetuses have no rights; is this what you have asserted without giving reasons? Or am I even stupider than I thought 🙂

    “I’m saying that even a newborn isn’t a potential person anymore. He will never become more of a person than he is now, both by my legal definition, the current legal definition, and your legal definition. You take it further to say that a fertilized human egg that can be safely transferred to a willing, and paying, parent will also never become any more of a person than it is now.”

    Not quite my position; I distinguish a person (who has the power of conceptual thought) and a potential person (one who may grow into this). I am arguing that we should extend legal rights to a particular sort of potential person, the fetus, as we have done for other potential persons, the newborns. Here, I am not using “person” as a legal distinction, but an ontological one.

    The rights, in particular, that I want to extend to the fetus are the rights of newborns. That is,

    1. the right not to be destroyed on the whim of the mother, if there is a method of removal that is more convenient for the mother and doesn’t destroy the fetus, and

    2. the right that, for the fetus’s guardian to give up guardianship, a public (possibly anonymous) announcement is necessary.

    “you say that under current medical technology, abortion should be legal for two basic reasons: It’s unreasonable to force a woman to undergo a live extraction if abortion is safer, and nine months is an unreasonable amount of time to force a woman to wait to undergo a live birth.”

    More than just those two reasons. In fact, I have said that the fact that the mother wants to have an abortion is a huge amount of evidence that the abortion is more convenient than the removal. So many reasons are okay. For example …

    “What about privacy? What about peace of mind? Some women don’t want the mental anguish of living the rest of their lives knowing they have a child out there somewhere. for no other reason than she doesn’t want her parents to find out about it.”

    What is the privacy concern? The public announcement to give up guardianship can be anonymous. Again, in the case of a child already born, it might just be giving the child anonymously to the local convent.

    Not wanting your parents to find out: interesting. I bet this is a reason that would fly; if the removal procedure had more of a chance of discovery than the abortion procedure, I think I would say that that was a good enough reason. However, this is an empirical matter; if the abortion procedure was equally or more likely to cause discovery, then that would not be a good enough reason. This goes for privacy concerns as well.

    I’m not sure about peace of mind; this comes down to simply wanting the child dead, and I’m not sure that is good enough. In fact, this might be the only reason that I don’t accept. Do you have other reasons that I might find equally objectionable? 🙂

    Also, mental anguish isn’t something that libertarians protect all that often. If I cause you mental anguish, usually you don’t have the right to defend yourself physically.

    “What about one month? What about five minutes? Wherever you choose to draw the line of time convenience, isn’t it subjective or arbitrary or whatever you want to call it?”

    Arbitrary (not supported by reasons, as opposed to subjective, which cannot be supported by reasons. Sorry, but I think this is an important distinction on a site called “A Reasonable Man”).

    It isn’t arbitrary, though; the principle would simply be to measure the costs (to the mother only, not the fetus) of the abortion and compare it to the costs of the removal. Since we can’t measure the costs easily, it would need to be an evidentiary procedure, with the burden being on the person saying “Although this person has chosen abortion, it is better for her (and her alone, not the fetus), to go though the removal procedure.”

    For example, if it takes one hour for the removal and two hours for the abortion, and that is (literally) the only difference, then the abortion would be illegal. If there were an abortion pill, then their removal procedure must take less time than the pill, again if time is the only factor.

    In real situations, there would be so many factors involved (time, money, inconvenience, pain, risk, etc), that we would pretty much have to take the word of the mother. But, if we could prove that the mother is better off (say, by her confessing “I am willing to go through some more pain just to kill the child”), then that would be it, and there are methods to figure out which would make her better off (I can help someone trade-off time, money, inconvenience, pain, and risk fairly easily, given that person’s preferences; that’s what I do as a medical decision analyst).

    “abandoned child” example

    1. You are not the abandoned child’s guardian, and need not consider its interests, or make a public announcement.

    2. The previous guardian is a criminal for not acting in the child’s best interest.

    3. The child is now without a guardian, and is infringing your rights.

    This is a much easier case than the fetus case, since (I think) you think that the fetus has no rights (am I correct?), but you do think the child has rights. This makes the analysis a simple libertarian rights analysis.

    “The authorities inform you that he’s chained in such a way that it will take a couple of hours to safely remove him. Can you kill the kid, or should they force you to wait?”

    The child has forfeited its right to be left alone, as it has infringed on your property. You now are legally allowed to use the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the child from infringing your rights. We would measure the amount of inconvenience (to you, not the child) involved in the different methods of removal, and you have the right to the most convenient method of removal. If this involves killing the child, so be it. Unethical? Probably (but not necessarily in the nine – months – then – destroy – your – house situation); however, you have the right to be left alone, and no one, not even children, are allowed to inflict damage on you.

    Still, minimum force is a legal requirement; if the child is “chained” with rope, then you can’t cut off its arm; cutting the rope would be more convenient for you and less force used on the child, so cutting off its arm or killing it would be illegal. You couldn’t say “I just wanted the child dead; it caused me mental anguish for it to be alive.”

    I’m not sure why you brought up this example; it bypasses our disagreement about the rights of a fetus, no? I would think you would agree with my analysis above, given your previous statements, but still disagree about the abortion issue.

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  19. “And what if no one comes forward to claim the kid and offer to pay for your damages and inconvenience? Now can you kill the kid chained to your toilet?”

    First, you need to pay for the removal in any case (unless you make arrangements with the other guardian). Analogously, the mother pays for the removal or abortion; the guardian pays for everything else, unless they come to another contractual arrangement.

    Second, this is similar to the part of your earlier post that I hadn’t gotten to yet.

    “I have a question about this. Let’s say someone abandons a severely retarded guy on your doorstep and he wanders into your house. This guy is so mentally challenged that he can’t even feed himself. If he can be safely extracted from your house unharmed, but no one comes forward to take care of him, can you kill him in your house? He’s just going to starve to death anyway.”

    If I assume that the guy has rights (perhaps not, depending on the extent of the brain damage and our abilities to fix it), then no, I guess not, and it isn’t just the fact that someone might help him before he dies. Even if I knew he would die quickly and immediately if we removed him, I think it would be different than killing him. (Although, if the only way to remove him was to push him out the tenth story window or some such thing, I might be hard-pressed to make the distinction. Also, maybe I could argue that, in such a case, maybe killing him quickly and painlessly would make him better off. But I don’t really buy either of these arguments). I could only use the minimum force necessary for removal.

    I thought that, just from a practical point of view, there isn’t much difference between removing and abandoning a very young fetus and killing it; no guardian will come in time to save it, and it will die immediately.

    The distinction is made, though; some societies in very cold environments will take people who need guardians (young children and elderly people who cannot support themselves and who no one else will support) and leave them outside to die instead of killing them. Maybe that would be best for the fetus situation as well, that the mother never has the right to kill, just remove, even if no guardian is present.

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  20. “Not quite my position; I distinguish a person (who has the power of conceptual thought) and a potential person (one who may grow into this). I am arguing that we should extend legal rights to a particular sort of potential person, the fetus, as we have done for other potential persons, the newborns. Here, I am not using “person” as a legal distinction, but an ontological one.”

    I thought we switched from “human” to “person” to speak strictly legally. I was never trying to suggest that you considered a fertilized egg and a human with the powers of conceptual thought to be equals in anything other than a legal sense.

    “More than just those two reasons. In fact, I have said that the fact that the mother wants to have an abortion is a huge amount of evidence that the abortion is more convenient than the removal. So many reasons are okay. For example … ”

    That comment, and this one:

    “It isn’t arbitrary, though; the principle would simply be to measure the costs (to the mother only, not the fetus) of the abortion and compare it to the costs of the removal. Since we can’t measure the costs easily, it would need to be an evidentiary procedure, with the burden being on the person saying “Although this person has chosen abortion, it is better for her (and her alone, not the fetus), to go though the removal procedure.” ‘

    … would seem to indicate that, for all practical purposes, our positions are pretty damn close. The only difference seems to be that, under your law, if the mother were accused of having an illegal abortion, the mother would need to word her reasons regarding why the abortion was more convenient than live birth, in such a way as to make it very difficult to be disproved. Under my law, we could just assume that abortion was more convenient for her and she wouldn’t have to give the reasons at all, saving ourselves the need for a trial.

    But I will concede, if it will put an end to all of this, that your arguments are far less circular than mine and that if you were to run for President, in spite of all of our disagreements, I’d vote for you. Not that it would do any good… (See earlier voting blog.)

    I do have another question for you about when you should lose the rights to your genetic material.

    Let’s say a man and his wife are trying to have a child with the help of a fertility clinic. They have several of her eggs at the clinic as well as a nice supply of his sperm. What if, one day, more than one of these eggs becomes successfully fertilized? They quickly put one fertilized egg into the woman, but can they destroy the other one, or is it now a person (legally speaking only) if some other woman wants it, and is willing to pay to impregnate herself with it? For the sake of this discussion, let’s say the fertilized egg can’t be put on ice for the first woman to decide whether or not she wants to impregnate herself with it later.

    Or is this any different?

    The man and woman have one egg and some sperm at the lab but change their mind about having a baby. If another woman comes forward and is willing to pay for the lab to bring that egg and sperm together so that she can have the baby, can the original couple demand that the egg and sperm be destroyed? They certainly can’t use a convenience argument.

    Should there be a difference legally? In both cases we’re talking about a potential human. Perhaps, in reality, the former case has more potential, but let’s say that this is a really, really good lab with a 100% success rate, so the potential for a human life is the same.

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  21. “I thought we switched from “human” to “person” to speak strictly legally. I was never trying to suggest that you considered a fertilized egg and a human with the powers of conceptual thought to be equals in anything other than a legal sense.”

    Sorry for the confusion; in arguments about abortion, “human” doesn’t work too well, since the fetus is biologically a human. “Person” is usually used in ethics and philosophy as the term to distinguish things with conceptual thought (language, ethical codes, politics, etc.) from others (animals, fetuses, newborns, etc.) I don’t know what the legal term is that means “Someone with rights.”

    “But I will concede, if it will put an end to all of this, ”

    I wanted to hear opposing arguments, as I am not sure where the holes and weak spots of my arguments are. If you see any, shoot. I enjoy our discussion very much.

    “the mother would need to word her reasons regarding why the abortion was more convenient than live birth, in such a way as to make it very difficult to be disproved.”

    Well, she’d need to be careful about this, especially if there were someone who wanted the child alive. If it were proved that the mother lied in an evidentiary proceeding and then aborted the fetus, it sounds like fraud and first degree murder to me (and libertarians usually advocate draconian punishments for such offenses >;-). This risk might not be acceptable if the only benefit was to destroy the fetus in a more painful, costly, inconvenient, risky way than removal.

    A trial would only happen if people actually confronted the mother and claimed she was acting illegally. If they were wrong, they would have to pay the costs of her defense; if they were intentionally bringing a lawsuit they knew to be false, they might be criminally liable as well.

    “What if, one day, more than one of these eggs becomes successfully fertilized? They quickly put one fertilized egg into the woman, but can they destroy the other one, or is it now a person (legally speaking only) if some other woman wants it, and is willing to pay to impregnate herself with it?”

    According to me :-), if it is not implanted, it is property and has no rights, so destruction would be legal. One reason I like the implantation cut-off line is for precisely this reason, as well as for arguments about cloning, in-vitro, birth control, etc. I don’t know of the problems with this view; do you know any?

    My argument is that the implanted fetus has rights that the unimplanted embryo does not, since the fetus needs no more intervention to grow into a newborn, and the embryo does need our intervention. Again, do you see problems with this argument?

    Also, if an unimplanted embryo has rights, then eggs and sperm probably do as well, and that way lies madness :-).

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  22. “According to me :-), if it is not implanted, it is property and has no rights, so destruction would be legal. One reason I like the implantation cut-off line is for precisely this reason, as well as for arguments about cloning, in-vitro, birth control, etc. I don’t know of the problems with this view; do you know any?”

    I find this a bit confusing. I certainly agree that the embryo in the test tube is the original woman’s property, but I don’t see how it’s less her property if it’s in her body. If anything I would see it as more her property. Since the second woman is willing to grow it in her body, then for all practical purposes, the embryo already has obtained all the intervention it needs and would have the same rights as if it were already implanted, no?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but under your law, the state could order the live extraction of the embryo, (rather than allowing the mother to abort for no good reason) but before it is implanted in the second woman, the original mother could order its destruction since it needs further physical intervention in order to survive.

    “Also, if an unimplanted embryo has rights, then eggs and sperm probably do as well, and that way lies madness :-).”

    I agree with this completely, but what I have been trying to argue (not very well, I suppose) is that the differences the instant before and after fertilization, are not objectively greater, more important etc. than the differences the instant before and after birth. In fact, one could argue that the moment of birth is very likely the first time a human becomes self aware, because it’s the first time it is experiencing obvious, and very traumatic, change in its environment. This would make it vastly more significant (to me anyway) in the transition from potential person to person.

    I think, to a certain extent, we both fear the “madness” of allowing the state to mandate forced medical procedures (or take our genetic material) to allow potential people to become people. I just have a broader definition of “madness” than you, when it comes to this issue.

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  23. How does the fact that men may be subject to paying child support until the child reaches 18 impact the argument. Although I think that paying several thousand dollars a month for 18 years is probably less of a burden on a man than is carrying a fetus to term is for a woman, child support isn’t peanuts either. Your argument would imply that men have the choice to either force a woman to have an abortion or forego child support payments. Would you agree?

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  24. The legalistic argument against abortion lies in the definition of death. In all fifty states, and all territories of the United States, the medical definition of death for human beings is the absence of a heartbeat and of brainwaves. Why then, is not the definition of life in a human being the presence of these attributes?

    Viability is a different argument, and one that is roughly analogous to ‘worthiness’ for proponents of abortion legality. Another view might be to look at viability in terms of assistance by the mother. A human fetus is “viable” within the womb only with the passive (involuntary) assistance of the mother. A human baby is only viable outside of the womb with the active (voluntary) assistance of the mother (or other adult human being) for at least a number of years.

    If abortion would have been “safe, legal, and rare” in California in 1959, my own mother assures me that I would not be here to ask these questions.

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