Monday, July 25, 2016

Late-term abortion and subjective morality

Is any one opinion on late-term abortion more morally arbitrary than another?

A far-left friend recently posted a link lamenting how Hillary Clinton had picked such an anti-abortion candidate as her vice-president.  I found this amusing, because it appeared on my screen just below a far-right friend lamenting how any Catholic could be so pro-abortion as Tim Kaine.  So far as I can tell, Kaine and I currently have roughly the same opinion on the abortion policy, which is that it should almost always be safe and legal, but that some restrictions are justified in rare occasions during the third-trimester (post fetal-viability). So, the following exchange ensued.

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Me: It's funny because my hard right Catholic friends are blasting him as a traitor to Catholicism for being so rabidly pro-choice.

Should abortion be legal the day before birth? What about the hour before? Should infanticide be legal in the week after birth? If not, are you not also drawing the line somewhere based on your "personal ideology" of right and wrong?

Far left friend: yep, it's my personal ideology that everyone has the right to bodily autonomy--which must be the only exception to the NAP, then, if you are claiming that there can be a line drawn other than that one where a fetus is no longer part of the mother's body? So private property is sacred and defensible but an individual's body isn't? Sounds a lot like the logic that underpinned "all men are created equal--except for those people that aren't men and those men that aren't white, they don't have a right to shit because we own them"

Me: "...other than that one where the fetus is no longer a part of the mother's body"

And when is that, exactly? That's the entire debate. Where, when and why does one body begin and another end? You imply birth, but there's no medical/scientific reason that makes birth special. If a baby has been born, but the umbilical cord is still attached, is it still "a part of the woman's body?" which she can do with as she pleases? Or does seeing it and hearing it cry and react to pain and light and touch make it abundantly clear that it is now a separate body, whether or not the cord has been snipped?

I'm pro choice for so long as there remains any doubt as to the child's viability, but once that doubt is gone, the NAP and bodily autonomy apply as much to the child as they do to the mother. To say otherwise is to say "All men are created equal, except the ones I pretend haven't been fully created yet."

Far left friend: This "since they are all equally arbitrary..." reasoning is ridiculous. Who the fuck are you or I or a doctor to make that decision for the person whose health/life is ACTUALLY impacted by this choice. Birth is the line arbitrarily drawn by nature (or the cutting of the umbilical cord if you really want to get silly, assuming a trivial amount of time between the two) so I'm going to use that as my guideline.

Me: Once again you beg the question. It seems to me that post viability, there are at least two people whose health/life are ACTUALLY impacted by this choice, whether or not actually is written in all-caps. Kaine allows medical exceptions for the mother's health anyway.

It takes a special sort of conceit to insist there's nothing arbitrary about a moral opinion with which at least 85% of Americans disagree (and surely even larger majorities in the world at large). Those are just people who think third trimester abortions should be illegal, mind you - it's very likely that jumps over 90% when you get to the final week before birth. These people feel this way, for the most part, because on some level they recognize that the creation of morally meaningful human life occurs gradually over time, which makes any instantaneous transition from no rights to full rights unworkable. To kill a born child with cord attached runs contrary to our every honest moral intuition of right and wrong because it's clear that person has been fully “created”, and it's no less so an hour before that time. That's all my example was designed to illustrate.

Thankfully, our disagreement is usually immaterial, as the vast, vast majority of abortions take place before the third trimester anyway. Those should be safe, legal, and as common as women want them to be. But sooner or later, you'll need to confront a truth that's as inconvenient for me as a libertarian as it is for you here: that the field of philosophy pertaining to autonomy and human rights is sometimes messy and unclear, such that rights exist on a spectrum and sometimes conflict with one another. I don't expect this to change your mind about late term abortion, but eventually I hope it will make you a little less angry at the world.

Far-left friend: People who de-politicize real political issues by reducing them to the vacuum of "all else being equal" thought experiments are exactly what make me so angry at the world. Unless you have a uterus and will have to choose whether or not to abort a child at some point in your life, please keep your moralizing about the threshold of "viability" to yourself. It is the mother's choice, not yours and not mine.

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I let him have the last word at that.

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