Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thoughts on abortion

Since Gene is writing about "moral realism" right now, I thought I'd throw some thoughts I've been having about abortion into the ring. None of this is directed at Gene - it's just something that's popped into my mind as a result of his posts.

I guess I'd call myself pro-choice, but I am very wary of abortion and certainly don't like it. That's a policy/legal position and a gut position of mine. Ethically, I'm not sure what I think about it. But one thing I don't think is that it's a "holocaust" or that it's the moral equivalent of killing babies.

And I think most pro-lifers agree with me on this. The reason is simple - if you actually thought tens of millions of helpless babies were being killed in a holocaust, you would be doing everything under the sun to prevent it. At the very least you'd be cheering on the people that do take it upon themselves to do something about it. You certainly wouldn't be squeemish about using violence. Most of us aren't pacifists (I'm not), and we think violence is justified to prevent harm in a lot of cases. We think it's OK to fight terrorists. We think it's OK for police to use lethal force if a person's life is at risk, etc. So if we REALLY thought tens of millions of babies were being killed, we wouldn't condemn violence to stop it. Since almost all pro-lifers DO condemn violence against abortion providers, and since they don't do much of anything besides protest, write letters, and try to sway public opinion, I have to conclude they don't actually think there's a holocaust going on.

I've held that view for a long time. But there are some good responses to it. Not entirely satisfying responses, but good ones. For example, people will say "well it doesn't help our case if people think we're extremists", or simply "I'm too scared/weak to do it". Maybe... but I would think several decades of alleged baby killing would overcome most of these excuses. If gynecologists started going around ethanizing six month olds at a parent's request, for example, they'd be hunted down by angry mobs in no time. So just admit it to yourself - you actually don't think it's baby killing. You think it's wrong to be sure (as I said above - I think I might agree), but you think that fetuses have less moral weight to them than babies. You demonstrate every day that that's what you actually think, so own up to it rather than berating those of us who have already owned up to it. You don't think abortion is killing a baby, period.

The other thing I've been thinking about more recently is that even if these excuses ("I'm too scared to take action"/"I actually AM a pacifist" [no, in all likelihood you're not]/"It would be counter-productive", etc.) were convincing, it still wouldn't explain the way people who think abortion is baby-killing actually act. So let's say I thought abortion was killing a baby but I gave these excuses for not taking matters in my own hand to stop it - that still doesn't explain why I interact amicably with pro-choicers day in and day out. Think about what amicable interaction with pro-choicers implies. Think about that situation where gynecologists go around killing six month olds to order. And then consider members of society who are just fine with that and think it's a parent's right to euthanize their six month old. Now maybe you're unwilling to join an angry mob, but you'd certainly be so disgusted with the person that embraces child euthanasia that you'd have nothing to do with them. Maybe taking matters into your own hands would be "counter-productive", but it certainly wouldn't be counter-productive to shun those wretches that support child euthanasia. If you actually thought people were celebrating a holocaust of tens of millions of babies you would be so disgusted with them you would want nothing to do with them. You wouldn't want to friend them on Facebook, much less be seen with them in real life. It's just too horrendous a thing to be that casual about.

And yet every day pro-lifers get along fine with pro-choicers. Even when they're arguing about abortion it usually remains civil relatively civil. People organize debates about this stuff and then shake hands afterwards. This isn't how people behave when they think tens of millions of babies are being killed and their debating partner approves of it. The only reasonable conclusion is that almost nobody ACTUALLY thinks this is baby killing. You don't. You do think it's morally wrong, but you think it's of significantly less consequence than that.

And if you disagree with me, then I'd say the vast majority of you have chosen a bizarre way to respond to child murder.


  1. The reason is simple - if you actually thought tens of millions of helpless babies were being killed in a holocaust, you would be doing everything under the sun to prevent it.

    So Daniel, were you just unaware that US foreign policy right now leads to hundreds of children dying in very gruesome deaths at the hands of US weaponry (not sure the relevant time frame to be able to quote a rate)?

    I get what you're saying but you have a funny way sometimes of making your point, given your other views on things (and the confidence with which you state them).

    1. Right, and hundreds of children would be dying in gruesome ways (to say nothing of being dehumanized in other ways) if we didn't take military action.

      I don't think it's a funny way of making my point - I have good reason for supporting military action that can be tragic. That reason is the counter-factual of what would have happened in the absence of military action.

      What reason does the pro-lifer who says he thinks abortion is baby-killing have? Do THEY argue (like I do with war) that while a violent response would have an even greater set of tragedies? No - they can't argue that. Because if tens of millions of babies lives are really, truly at stake it's hard to see what cost it wouldn't be appropriate to pay to stop it.

      And yet...

  2. I'd add that the holocaust is strongly, if not inextricably linked to a genocide. Equating abortions to the (or "a") holocaust is meaningless if it cannot be demonstrated that the aim of abortions is a large-scale murder of an entity constituting a people. Of course, I think what is usually really meant with this equation is to allude to some vague idea of senseless mass-murder, thereby trivializing what is probably the greatest crime in the history of humanity in order to stir up an emotional debate. That's cheap and unfortunately quite common by now (as equating politian XY to Hitler, or party YX to the NSDAP). One shouldn't do this type of vacuous and/or ill-spirited pseudo-argument the favor to consider it in one's discussion.

    Am I the only one who thinks that a statement like "babies were being killed in a holocaust" implies that only babies of a certain pre-defined group are killed, with the aim to kill them all?

    1. I'm not sure I agree with this. Again, even if it weren't linked to a particular group of people wouldn't you object to euthanasia on demand for six month olds? I think people would universally react to euthanasia for six month olds differently than they would react to abortion - pro-choice or not.

      Why the difference?

  3. Of course I would object to euthanasia on demand for six-year olds. Btw, I would also object to euthanasia on demand of anyone as far as there is no medical indication and the one to be killed does not consent. But if pro-life groups think abortion is murder, and that the scale of abortion as taking place amounts to mass murder, they should call it like that and not allude to the holocaust via free association, when the holocaust had a special aim (to kill everybody who was considered as Jewish according to the laws of the Reich, no less) not present in abortion, whatever you think about it.
    Someone thinks there is too much government under Obama? OK, so she should make her point and one can discuss it, but she shouldn't call him Stalin - it's not only over the top, it's simply wrong. Someone thinks the GOP is too restrictive on immigration? OK, so she should make her point and one can discuss it, but she shouldn't call them Nazis, it's simply not what they are. Making such comparisons adds nothing to the argument but a lot of emotion and connotations completely unrelated to the topic at hand - and also, too, they are simply false analogies. I tried to point out that a similar argument should be applied to the faulty comparison between abortion and holocaust. Whatever you think about abortion, it's not a genocide and it's certainly not a genocide on Jews. Period. Perhaps pro-lifers hate it as much, but then certainly some people do really hate Bush as much as Hitler, or even more, but that doesn't render the comparison any more valid.

    And just in case: No, I did not mean to say that Bush compares to Hitler to about the same degree as abortion does to the holocaust - but I see myself that one could conjecture something the like from what I've just written. But that's the point: don't make and don't allow faulty analogies, they complicate things much more than they clarify and raise silly secondary issues...

    1. You seem to think that lower-case "h" holocaust equals Nazis. I've just always understood it to mean mass murder. Anyway, regardless of what it means, it's a reference that's used by pro-lifers. The point is that whether it's a generic mass murder or it's a Nazi allusion holocaust, they still don't respond in a way that's consistent with sincerely thinking that.

    2. Yes, I just looked it up on merriam webster. As you maybe remember, I'm Austrian: the word is used in a rather narrow sense in German, as you can imagine. I should have thought about the possibility that there simply is a difference between English and German. My apologies, I'll do my homework next time, that was really a waste of time...

    3. No need to be apologetic as long as we're clear on what we're each saying!

  4. "Observational" fact: abortion kills.

    Life begins at fertilization -- See the old NOVA program "The Miracle of Life."

    A scientific observation. Religiously I'm an agnostic. (Don't know why I have to say this, but everyone assumes when I say "abortion kills" I'm making a religious argument. I'm not.)

    Dennis Baker

    1. Certainly it kills - that's why I think it's such a big deal from an ethical standpoint. But does it kill the moral equivalent of a toddler? I don't think so, and I don't think many other people think so either.

      And I agree completely that this has nothing to do with religion. In fact it's interesting it's become so caught up in religion. Religious people don't have a special claim to honoring human life and being opposed to murder, after all - so if you do think it's murder (again, I think few people actually do - but many claim to), there's no reason why you should be especially likely to be religious. I think that's just a function of institutional history. Historically the church has taken a particular position, so we see an association with religion in the way people think about this.

  5. "if you actually thought tens of millions of helpless babies were being killed in a holocaust, you would be doing everything under the sun to prevent it."

    maybe -- yet this seems a straw man argument -- since the view of abortion "murder" is not held in same regard as holocaust murder -- the relationship of mother to child at it's core is a parasitic one (without getting deep philosophical of course) -- allowing a fetus to die as opposed to killing it is analogous to refusing the warming of a freezing man passed out on your lawn in the middle of winter -- or not throwing a drowning man a life jacket -- you may be a jerk -- but lets be honest no reasonable person is gonna be calling on you to walk the Green Mile --

    "Our theory also enables us to examine the question of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, of Boston City Hospital, who was convicted in 1975 of manslaughter for allowing a fetus to die (at the wish, of course, of the mother) after performing an abortion. If parents have the legal right to allow a baby to die, then a fortiori they have the same right for extra-uterine fetuses. Similarly, in a future world where babies may be born in extra-uterine devices ("test tubes"), again the parents would have the legal right to "pull the plug" on the fetuses or, rather, to refuse to pay to continue the plug in place." Rothbard

  6. So, ghandi wasn't really opposed to british rule in india? Martin Luther King didn't really care all that much about civil rights after all? Yeah, I dont think this line of argument quite works. Violence is not the flower of conviction and the key distinction between man and beast is not depth of sincerity. Human beings are quite capable of believing things are great moral wrongs without resort to violence and this is something which should bring praise, not suspicion.

    I do think that most pro lifers do not regard babies in the same way they do the unborn child but I think it is a question of emotional distance and not moral truth. Seeing your own daughter get shot, watching someone's daughter getting shot, and reading about someone's daughter getting shot are three scenarios which would most likely encourage vastly different emotional responses and subsequent actions even though in each case the moral truth of the matter is the same. The child in utero spends its life hidden, we dont interact with it and 'feel' its existence in the same way as we do a baby. It doesnt make cute little faces or squeeze our finger. It's very easy, even for people who oppose abortion, to think of it merely as some thing and not some one. This is why the improving clarity of ultrasounds has played a big role in views on abortion. It lets people feel the existence of the child in a way they couldnt previously, its no longer just a bump and morning sickness.

    1. You need to read my post more closely, teqzilla.

      If you are a pacifist, responding non-violently makes sense. Most people aren't pacifists though. I'm not a pacifist, for example. There are a lot of us non-pacifists out there. Non-pacifists have no excuse for not responding violently to the murder of tens of millions of babies if that's what they genuinely think is going on. At the very least they should endorse the people who do take such steps. The fact that so many non-pacifists don't react this way suggests strongly to me that they don't genuinely think these are babies that are being killed.

      Now, if you're an actual pacifist of course your response is going to be different.

      re: "Human beings are quite capable of believing things are great moral wrongs without resort to violence and this is something which should bring praise, not suspicion."

      I'm not suspicious of restraint of violence. I do praise that. What I'm suspicious of is the sincerity with which people genuinely think this is baby killing. I don't think they are sincere about that (for the most part - some are). I am not suspicious of restraint on violence. Civilization is nothing if not the ability to restrain ourselves from using violence to solve our problems. That doesn't mean civilization is pacifist, though.

      re: "Seeing your own daughter get shot, watching someone's daughter getting shot, and reading about someone's daughter getting shot are three scenarios which would most likely encourage vastly different emotional responses and subsequent actions even though in each case the moral truth of the matter is the same."

      Yes, but hearing that tens of millions of peoples' daughters getting shot and that it is legal ought to elicit a reaction, teqzilla. I would hope if I heard on the news that tens of millions of toddlers were shot and that it's been perfectly legal for decades, I wouldn't fail to act because of "emotional distance" from the victims.


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