Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Thoughts on Abortion

A few days ago, I wrote my thoughts on an issue on which I agree with most Libertarians, and disagree with most Republicans. So today I thought I'd flip it. I consider myself Pro-Life, in contrast to most Libertarians who view it as an issue of shrinking government's powers. Here are my thoughts...

The entire issue of abortion boils down to a single, complex question: when does life begin? If you are a hard-core liberal, you say life begins at birth; if you are a hard-core conservative, you say life begins at conception. If life begins at birth, then a fetus is merely a part of the woman's body, which she may do with as she pleases; it is not a living human being, and thus not entitled to the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and property. If life begins at conception, than the fetus is a living human being, and a woman may not "choose" to kill that being any more than she may "choose" to kill her neighbor, because both actions would be taking away the right to life.

So, what's the answer? When does life begin? I believe that, insofar as government is concerned, this must be a purely scientific question. Separation of church and state does not mean the government must be entirely separate from religious ideology, but it does mean it cannot force everyone to abide by the moral code of one religion. Some religions or moral codes feel abortion is evil, others feel it is a woman's choice: legalizing or abolishing abortion using religion as justification is, in effect, forcing everyone to abide by your religion, which is unconstitutional. Science is the neutral tiebreaker, a way for politicians to settle a question which must be settled, without asserting one religious view as superior to another.

So what does science say about when life begins? Any biology textbook worth its salt will tell you that in order to be classified as a living organism, a being must meet 5 main criteria:
  1. It must be highly organized.
  2. It must be able to acquire materials and energy.
  3. It must be able to respond to its environment.
  4. It must be able to reproduce.
  5. It must be able to adapt.
According to this source: http://www.prolifephysicians.org/lifebegins.htm, there is widespread consensus in the scientific community that, from the moment of conception, a human being has all five of these characteristics. There is near universal consensus that these characteristics are met by the culmination of the first trimester. I do not know if this is true, but I've yet to encounter a liberal debate partner who contested it's veracity. And so, unless I learn otherwise, unless I am confronted with scientific evidence that the fetus is not, factually, a living human being, I will remain pro-life.

"But Andrew, shouldn't people be allowed to make these moral evaluations for themselves?" a savvy pro-choice debate opponent might ask. "Are you not pro-choice on everything else? Clearly, the question of when life begins is hotly contested, and many people disagree on moral grounds, just as they disagree on homosexuality or other contentious social issues. Yet on those issues, you support enabling each individual to decide for themselves, based on their own morality, without the government making an across-the-board ruling. Why not here? Why not enable each individual to choose for themselves if they view abortion as wrong, and act accordingly?"

A wise observation, imaginary foe. Admittedly, there is an apparent contradiction of the traditional party stances here. But the difference between abortion and homosexuality, as it relates to mandated morality, is that abortion, unlike homosexuality, takes away someone's rights. And the purpose of the government is to defend those rights. Thomas Jefferson eloquently explained this in his Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...
That this contains a reference to divine creation is hardly irrelevant to the role of government when it comes to religion, but asserting the existence of God is not necessary to the existence of those rights. The point is that those rights are not given by government at birth, but that people are already "endowed" with them at their creation. The point is that our founding documents outlined the duty of government to defend those rights in all "created" men. And if the rights of all created men are to be defended, it is necessary for the government to define when a man is created.

Homosexuality, on the other hand, carries no such burden. That it is moral or immoral is subjective, but it does not take away anybody's rights. It affects nobody but the parties involved, by their own volition. In fact, would be an encroachment on their right to liberty (as asserted by Jefferson above) and free expression (as asserted by the first amendment) to ban homosexuality. The same goes for many other moral questions. The government is not required to rule on the morality of homosexuality or other social issues, because those questions does not relate to its constitutional duties to protect the rights of the citizens. But the question of when life begins, and therefore when the rights associated with life begin, does.

Where I feel Roe vs. Wade erred was in its distinguishing between a "living human being" and a "person." Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:

The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.  In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development.  If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment.
Nevertheless, the court chose to sidestep this question. Recognizing that distinguishing between a living human being and a "person" as described by the 14th Amendment was next to impossible, the pro-choice members of the court instead based their decision on pragmatism. Rather than examine the scientific or moral definitions for personhood, they examined the perceived effects their decision would have on women, employing the classic "Would you have women using coat-hangers in a back-alley?" argument. But this is a logical fallacy: that some women may harm themselves in desperation if abortion were illegal does not mean it should be legal. Doubtlessly, legalizing murder would make life far easier and safer on murderers. Thieves are often driven to commit their crimes out of "desperation" too, but that does not justify their actions. And no judge would argue that we should legalize burglary because "well, even if we make it illegal, people are just gonna do it anyway!" This is the cowards way out, sidestepping the decision which logic tells us is just, simply because it is more difficult to enforce.

Practically, it is easier to just allow women to kill their unborn children whether they're alive or not. These children cannot vote, they cannot petition outside the courthouse, and they cannot speak up for themselves. They are intellectually primitive and physically underdeveloped. But they are alive. And if we truly believe that all men, all people, all living human beings, are created with an unalienable right to life, then depriving them of that right must be illegal.

6 comments:

  1. You have missed the point of certain aspects of the Supreme Court's analysis in Roe v. Wade. The Court interpreted the term "person" in the 14th Amendment according to the understanding and intent of those who drafted and ratified the Amendment in 1868. (FYI, that's the approach typically favored by those considered conservative.) The Court found that the term was then universally understood to refer to those who have been born.

    The Court's interpretation of the term "person" was not founded, as you suggest, on the Court's view of the effect of its decision on women. Rather, its discussion of the interests of women came later in the Court's opinion as it endeavored to balance a woman's right of privacy and a state's interests in women's health and a growing population.

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  2. Hey, thanks for commenting! I don't doubt that the Supreme Court, like many liberals, argued that "person" only applied to those humans who have been born, but I do challenge the validity of such a distinction.

    I am all in favor of viewing constitutional diction as it was intended at the time it was written. But under this logical approach, I fail to see how the Supreme Court interpreted that 14th Amendment personhood only applied to those who have been born. Did the authors of the 14th Amendment INTEND to make any sort of distinction between the two in their ruling? Did they intend to in any way legislate on abortion in 1868? Certainly not. Their primary intent was to assure that newly freed slaves had equality under the law; they would have never dreamed that their verbage would later be interpreted as a justification of abortion, as in 1868 that issue was not even up for debate.

    There is no evidence that "the term 'person' in the 14th Amendment according to the understanding and intent of those who drafted and ratified the amendment in 1868...was then universally understood to refer [exclusively] to those who have been born", as you say the Court ruled. Without such evidence, there was no basis for such a distinction by the court without using scientific means. Which is where your second paragraph comes in. The fact that the issues of "the interests of women" and "women's health" and "a state's interests in a growing population" even came into the discussion at any point belies the Court's true motivations. This was a ruling of convenience, of social engineering, rather than a ruling on principle, and that is a problem in my eyes.

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  3. Quoted from you: "abortion, unlike homosexuality, takes away someone's rights."
    Forcing a woman to have an unwanted (for whatever reason) child is taking away someone's rights. But I suppose you think an unborn child has more rights than a woman - after all, women are stupid and deserve to be raped and forced to bear the children of rape and/or incest...

    "They are intellectually primitive and physically underdeveloped. But they are alive. And if we truly believe that all men, all people, all living human beings, are created with an unalienable right to life, then depriving them of that right must be illegal."
    If the woman's life is in danger because of the pregnancy, should she not have this "unalienable right to life"? If a woman will be out of a job if she has a child (maybe she's a prostitute), how do you expect her to live?

    I believe the abortion matter all boils down to 2 types of people. Not pro-life and pro-choice, but those who believe in personal liberty and those who want to decide for EVERYONE ELSE. Pro-choice people obviously are not against women giving birth...but pro-life people refuse to allow others to do things in any other way than their own. In this way, abortion is much like gay rights; anti-gays (who aren't gay themselves) want to decide matters impacting other people who they can never and will never understand. And this brings us back to abortion - men will NEVER understand what it's like to bear an unwanted child, to be forced to have a child of rape or incest. That stuff stays with a woman for life, but I wouldn't expect you to know that. And because you don't understand that, why would you think you're qualified to make a decision for half the population of the US?

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    1. I believe that abortion is wrong but there are certain times when it is acceptable like when a women is at risk of dying from giving birth to a child or there is something wrong with the child that would cause it to sufer in the future. For a raped victim that does not wish to keep the child they can put it up for adoption it is not the childs fault that the cercimstances it was concceved in was not appropriet for the parents it is still a living being and does have the rights to life there are many people out there in the world who wish to have children and cannot that baby they wish to get rid of could be the one who changes someones life around for the better.

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  4. "forcing a woman to have an unwanted (for whatever reason) child is taking away someone's rights." - no, frankly, it's not. you do not have a right to kill another living human being, whether it resides in your body or not. is forcing a woman to feed a child she already has birthed an infraction on her rights? surely not, that law already exists and is uncontested. whether or not it is born should not change the legality of killing it.

    "But I suppose you think an unborn child has more rights than a woman - after all, women are stupid and deserve to be raped and forced to bear the children of rape and/or incest..." - no, i think an unborn child has the exact same rights as a woman, or of a man, or of any other living human being. and that includes the right to life. and by attempting to equate my reasonable and informed opinion with the opinion that "women are stupd and deserve to be raped", you make an obvious straw man which discredits everything else you say. if you disagree, great, i'd love to hear why. but don't make absurd, wild insults that have no bearing in fact.

    "If the woman's life is in danger because of the pregnancy, should she not have this "unalienable right to life"?" - absolutely. i am all in favor of abortion if the mother's life is in danger; her rights must take precedent in that instance, just as the right of a homeowner must take precedent if his life is threatened by a robber.

    "If a woman will be out of a job if she has a child (maybe she's a prostitute), how do you expect her to live?" - that is not justification at all. right to life does not mean right to a job. if you get fired, and can't afford to feed your kid, are you justified in just killing it? of course not! you should be able to exercise whatever lifestyle you choose, and whatever job you have, but inability to afford things does not justify you in harming others or committing crimes. murder is one of those crimes.

    "I believe the abortion matter all boils down to...those who believe in personal liberty and those who want to decide for EVERYONE ELSE." - my beliefs on everything else prove this wrong. as a libertarian, i don't want to decide for anyone else at all! i want everyone to be able to choose if they can do drugs, or be a prostitute, or sell their kidney's, or practice extreme religions, or marry someone of the same gender, or a bunch of other things that most people, no matter where they stand on abortion, don't want to let people do! Your statement that "pro-life people refuse to allow others to do things in any other way than their own" is proven wrong by the fact that i am pro life and i let people act how they choose...to the extent that it doesn't harm others. and a baby is an other.

    "men will NEVER understand what it's like to bear an unwanted child" - that is absolutely true. i don't claim to know what that's like. but i do claim to know that, according to our declaration of independence (which you needn't be a certain gender to understand), all people are endowed by their creator with an unalienable right to life. and if science (gender neutral) tells us an unborn infant is a living person, they have that right.

    "why would you think you're qualified to make a decision for half the population of the US?" - the same reason you feel qualified to tell your child (if you have a child) he should not steal. technically, you're making a decision for him. But our government has recognized that that the decision to steal takes away somebody else's right to property, and must be illegal. and our government should also recognize that abortion takes away somebody else's right to life, not because i say so, but because science says so. i'm merely trusting the experts.

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  5. Please note that I have since changed my opinion on this issue, and although I still respect the opinion of those who hold my own stance I am now mostly pro-choice up until the end of the second trimester. To see my new thoughts on abortion, click this link: http://the-thought-that-counts.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-new-thoughts-on-abortion.html

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