Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Hard Choices

Kevin Drum spends a little time discussing Ranesh Ponnuru's reaction to President Obama's speech at Notre Dame, specifically regarding Obama's framing of his opinions on abortion. Drum thinks most of Ponnuru's argument is somewhat flimsy, but the point I wanted to address was the one thing on which the two of them seem to agree:
On one point, I think Ponnuru is right: some liberal politicians do have a habit of overdoing the "tragic, heartbreaking decision" rhetoric. To the extent that this is a reflection of reality for the way some women feel, it's fine. But it also shapes reality, and when it gets repeated too often it suggests that abortion should be a tragic, heartbreaking decision. As Ponnuru says, that's inevitably a concession to the pro-life worldview.
Until I read this passage it had never occurred to me that anyone with any intelligence would consider abortion as anything other than something that should be a tragic decision. Perhaps I'm just not entirely getting Drum's drift here, but it seems he is arguing that there is nothing necessarily wrong with an abortion decision being not particularly difficult.

I realise I'm sticking my head into the lion's mouth here (though those who know me well will know that abortion is easily the issue on which I am most conservative), but it's taken me years to the point where I'm even comfortable supporting abortion at all. Just to be clear, I've never been in favour of outlawing it, but it just took me a long time to view it as morally acceptable. It was ultimately Judith Jarvis Thomas' incredibly good article that ultimately changed my mind. The crux of her argument (and I am simplifying a great deal, so you should read the whole thing) is that you are not responsible for your pregnancy if the odds are sufficiently against it happening, and so carrying the baby to term is an act of goodwill that you cannot be morally expected (I'm not sure that that's good English, but I hope the meaning is clear) to perform. To not perform it might seem selfish, but it not your responsibility to do so, just as if you receive a phone call from someone you don't know in Australia saying they are dying and only a blood transfusion from you will save them, it is not your responsibility to hop on a plane, despite the fact that most people would agree that saving people's lives is something you should do if you get the chance.

That seems about right to me, certainly it made me realise that my objections to abortion are all about my failure to understand why someone wouldn't make that sacrificial act, which is just my opinion (and one that is much easier to hold when you don't have a womb) and thus entirely irrelevant to what anyone else chooses to do. What I don't get is why we wouldn't want to recognise that whilst you're not required to perform the charitable act, failing to do so has major consequences. I might not get on a 737 and head to Cairns, but I know that by doing so I am allowing someone to die. Is Drum's argument that because it's a severe imposition for me to make the trip, I shouldn't find it hard to let this person die, knowing I could have saved them? That seems very strange. By the same token, a pregnant woman is not responsible for her foetus, should she choose not to be, and is thus not required to give birth to the baby that would result, but the only alternative is robbing a potential human being of the chance of life, and that is a hard fact that cannot be escaped.

I don't think pointing out the decision to have an abortion should be difficult, and yes, tragic, is a concession to pro-life groups; it's a simple recognition of the choice being made.

Edited for clarity.

25 comments:

jamie said...

I agree entirely; I think a lot of what I feel about abortion was crystallised in Santos' stance on it in The West Wing, although without the religious dimension that was clearly a factor for him.

I too fail to see how accepting that having an abortion is not a decision that should be taken lightly is at all a concession to those who would ban it completely. To not acknowledge the weight of the action being taken is to trivialise the entire issue.

Chemie said...

I think you need to define 'abortion'. Because with one definition you might find out you in fact know many women who took the decision without hesitation or pangs of guilt.

And if you genuinely believe that you are only removing a potential life or a small lump of cells, then I imagine it could be a relatively simple and non-tragic decision. Life is full of 'ifs' some are more tragic than others.

And, yeah, you really need to get into the mindset of a woman to understand the whole 9 months obligation thing. Try this one: You are kidnapped and you wake up in a hospital bed attached to a stranger sharing various fluids. You are told that you can save the stranger's life if you stay attached. However you must stay attached for 9 months continuously, your career, home-life as you knew it, social life, physical and emotional well-being will all be impacted. Probably irrevocably. After the 9 months you will probably need another 9 months to resume your former health and *try* to regain your position within your society. The act itself is potentially lethal and could have severe permanent health repercussions. Oh. And society as a whole will expect you to care for the other person when the 9 months are up and will make you feel guilty for leaving them. Makes the plane to Adelaide sound easy doesn't it?

SpaceSquid said...

'if you genuinely believe that you are only removing a potential life or a small lump of cells, then I imagine it could be a relatively simple and non-tragic decision.'

This is the part that I have trouble understanding; I just can't get my head around the "this is all it is now" argument. I concede though that it Drum meant 'By assuming abortion is always to be thought of in terms of the potential life, rather than what it is at the time, then we're conceding things we shouldn't', then it's hard to respond to that beyond pointing out that I personally do think it should be thought of in terms of the potential life.

I'm aware of the nine months obligation argument (though starting off with a kidnapping implies we are discussing abortion following a rape, which is a whole other kettle of monkeys in any case), that part of it doesn't require the "mindset of a woman" in any way. The aeroplane example is by way of quick example, I was in no way attempting to suggest parity.

One of the things that bothers me about discussions of abortion is the suggestion that being a man means I can't understand the sacrifice necessary to bring an unwanted baby to term. I don't believe that's the case at all. What is true is that "I understand this sacrifice and I believe you should all make it anyway" is too easy a statement to be made when I know I can never be asked to make the sacrifice myself.

I'm also less than convinced by the argument that carrying a baby to term is made harder by society "making you feel guilty" if you put it up for adoption, because the implication there is that society sees adoption as worse than abortion.

Chemie said...

Society may see adoption as better than abortion but the media and life itself is full of people insisting on their special bond etc etc with their children. Society is designed and expects you to raise your children. It understands and appreciates adoption, but the first assumption a pregnant woman meets and sees in all pregnancy related media/environment/equipment is overwhelmingly towards keeping her child. I'm saying carrying someone else's child is very very emotionally and physically hard. Think about it. What do you think when you see a pregnant woman? 'She's having 'her' child'. Or 'she's just a vessel for someone else's child'?

You don' *have*to be a woman to appreciate the 9 months obligation, but you have to try and think like one. The whole parasitic life inside you feeling is *very* hard to describe. The kidnapped analogy can also imply that you took precautions to prevent pregnancy and failed. Maybe you walked somewhere dark on the way home.

And 'potential life' is in my opinion a pile of rubbish. Sperm are potential life, do you want to protect everyone of those?. It is incredibly common (I think something like 75% of foetuses)for women to miscarry without knowing they were 'pregnant'. And they miscarry because of tiny chemical changes, drinking too much coffee/alcohol/stress/strenuous exercise or just plain old mother nature. Should any woman who unknowingly has unprotected sex and then drinks too much coffee feels she has ended a potential life? The contraceptive pill works by preventing fertilisation *and* denying the correct wall for an accidentally fertilised egg to rest on: killing a potential life. The morning-after pill - one taken by many women I know, kills the possibility of a potential life. (and many people have taken that without a thought). I don't think you can define 'potential life' rigorously.

If we were discussing this in person I think you might have realised that you have offered an distant academic insight into various issues that some of us (and our friends) have already dealt with in reality. (All clever phrasalogy to avoid putting any personal stuff on tinternet-genuinely not as shocking as you probably think, although you never know)

Senior Spielbergo said...

Right, I’ve been avoiding this one because my personal views on this topic tend to get attacked mercilessly, and I’m a sensitive soul. But I will attempt to weigh in at this stage with one issue that I’m always interested to hear peoples views on, and is (I think) a purely academic point so I can leave my views at the door:

The issue and it is probably the biggest one for me when trying to approach this from a logical stand point, is the issue of differentiating between life (and I guess specifically human life) and potential life. If we assume we are happy to apply one rule for potential life and one rule for life (whole other big debate if we don’t and not what I’m focusing on here) we need a way of being able to draw a line between the two.

Now from my perspective I can only see two obvious points where there is a specific event that marks a change in development, conception (there is of course a further debate that could be instigated here about when this actually occurs, but for the sake of this I’m just going to define it broadly) and birth (or more specifically the cutting of the Umbilical Cord and the foetus ceases to be capable of being considered a “parasite” anymore).

So (again from my attempting to adopt a logical perspective) I can understand positions concerning abortion based around one of those two points being defined as when life starts. Unfortunately a lot of the positions I see adopted by other people are based on a point somewhere between these two points and based around the idea of viability. This is where (again at least to me) I struggle to find the proper logic to relate to this perspective. Viability is in the best of circumstances a very imprecise definition (it is basically just a wild ass guess based on the best medical knowledge currently available), and what makes it worse is that it is a constantly moving definition which shifts as medical science moves forward (from memory it’s moved from 26 weeks to something like 22 weeks in the last 30 years – but don’t trust these numbers as from memory). So you get the scenario that a foetus aged 24 weeks is at one stage considered not to be alive (and if we use this as the yard stick to allow abortion – OK to get rid of), and then a few years down the line a foetus of the same age *is* considered alive (and thus if we are using the same yard stick your not allowed to kill and potentially a crime if you do so). It is this aspect that from a logical perspective causes me a problem, as that scenario makes no sense to me as I don’t believe life can be defined by what the present state of our knowledge is, and certainly if it is in respect of criminalising an action, it shouldn’t be a constantly moving goal post. Plus sooner or later they are going to perfect the artificial womb and viability will drop to basically the same as conception (maybe plus a week or two), which I’m guessing if you presented that to the proponents of the viability yard stick, they are going to turn around and say that’s not what they were shooting for.

So that’s my issue and I suppose a broad open question. I can’t see the logic in this viability angle which seems to be what the vast majority of pro-choice (I use the term for convenience only – I accept there are plenty of people who will fall into this category who wouldn’t label themselves as such) people deem as the appropriate yard stick. I can understand a perspective of drawing the line at birth (which some people do use – just it appears nowhere near as many), just not any kind of logic that supports the notion of using viability as your yard stick. Anyone help?

SpaceSquid said...

Chemie:

I'm not disputing any of your comments on adoption, I am simply pointing out that it's strange to accentuate the negative aspects of adoption with regard to society whilst we're discussing why someone might choose an abortion. In this particular consideration, having an abortion is quite likely to make life harder, rather than easier. That's all.


I will grant that there are aspects to the psychology of the situation that I cannot hope to grasp. Crucially, though, this is also true of a woman who has not been pregnant. If the argument is "' need to try and think like a pregnant woman', that would seem more reasonable.

Regarding kidnapping, I'm guessing you mean that the woman made a choice that made her kidnapping more likely without actually encouraging it. In which case I agree to some extent, with the caveat that it is far harder to believe someone would think "I will walk down this dark street despite the risk of kidnapping" as oppose to "I will have sex despite the risk of pregnancy".

With regards to sperm, there is a simple and obvious difference between a process that has started, and a process that hasn't. You might not think the potential life argument has merit (many don't, to be sure), but it seems to me an obvious false analogy to equate the capacity with the process.

Your point on miscarrying is an interesting one, which I hadn't considered. What I would point out here is that it does not follow that because something is incredibly fragile that it is OK to deliberately break it. That doesn't really answer your main point about how the woman in question should be expected to feel, though. I would guess that, just as I don't think anyone would be bothered before the process begins (see above regarding sperm), finding out once a process has ended is different to when it's ongoing. Certainly, it's the decision part of the process that I'm talking about, and I don't think the fact that there's a 75% chance the process will terminate anyway really changes the situation all that much.

' I don't think you can define 'potential life' rigorously.''

Granted, this is tricky, but it does not follow that the concept is entirely invalid.

'If we were discussing this in person I think you might have realised that you have offered an distant academic insight into various issues that some of us (and our friends) have already dealt with in reality. (All clever phrasalogy to avoid putting any personal stuff on tinternet-genuinely not as shocking as you probably think, although you never know)'

Well, I would never want to intentionally upset or offend anyone over something so serious, obviously. Having said that, you're straying close to the "if you haven't been through it, you can't have an opinion" line of argument. I don't see anything a priori wrong with offering an opinion based on (attempted) logical extrapolation from one's internal axioms (and I confess immediately that said axioms may be entirely stupid, or contradictory, or what have you), even on an issue that is emotional for many. As just one example, I've made some references to the Middle East conflict that could have very much upset people who have lost loved ones in the various stages of the struggle. My own mother would be very upset to read some of the posts I've made about my issues with the Christian Faith. It's one of the perils of having a blog where you talk about these things.

Further, I'd point out that in the grand scheme of things, "Squid thinks the decision you made easily should have been hard" probably isn't the worst thing anyone will ever read.

Senior Spielbergo said...

“I will grant that there are aspects to the psychology of the situation that I cannot hope to grasp. Crucially, though, this is also true of a woman who has not been pregnant. If the argument is "' need to try and think like a pregnant woman', that would seem more reasonable.”

While I think this is a legitimate point, I would be careful as it can offend people (almost had head ripped off before for not making this point quite correctly). I accept the argument that a woman who has not born a child can’t totally grasp the reality as well as a woman who has, but the counter argument is that while I have never been shot before, I’m still able to perceive it as a bad thing – due to the potential for it to occur. If I was superman I probably wouldn’t grasp the fear of being shot at all as it can’t effect me – Likewise a woman has the potential to get pregnant and therefore should have a better grasp of the psychology than a man does who can never get pregnant.

So to clarify – The only people who could have a complete full grasp of the scenario, including the positives and the negatives – is a woman who has born a child. A woman who hasn’t however still has a better understanding of the potential than a man does.

Chemie said...

@Spielbergo
I couldn't agree more that viability is a difficult measuring stick and without artificial wombs not one easily answered. It is perhaps better that it is always questioned and researched. Personally I think if a 'baby' can survive and develop outside the mother healthily, then it's a life. And yes I appreciate that the goal posts for that just keep getting lower. I leave my main criticism for the idea that 'potential life' is a good and logical marker whilst conveniently forgeting what that should then logically encompass.

@Mr tentacles
The fact that the IUD, contraceptive ill and morning after pill could be conceived to be abortificants is relevant to questioning abortion and the 'ease' of the decision. The prevalence of miscarriages is also relevant as they can occur by negligence from the mother and can indicate that not all 'potential life' is being treated correctly or with the emotional impact you expect. Is drinking too much coffee negligent homicide? If *any* fertilised egg (from the moment the cell splits) is a potential life and should be protected and treated as a person then you are going to have to make some *very* serious adjustments to how women treat themselves and their lifestyles, contraception and medical research. Clearly we as a society already make judgements about potential life, when it starts and what we believe a women's response to it should be. Go and ask a woman who uses the pill if it was 'an easy decision to possibly be killing a potential life every month'. Should a woman with a mysteriously heavy period be guilt ridden? There is a difference of course between knowing about a potential life inside yourself and measuring the probabilities of it. But with modern testing you can know about a 2 week old pregnancy. Is killing by ignorance now acceptable?

I never meant to imply "if you haven't been through it, you can't have an opinion". I was implying that you might be drawing conclusions without the information and experience other people have (and I won't give on the internet), which is a common trait in all debates. I was attempting to imply that I could form a better and more immediate argument about the decisions people make and the effect it has if I could talk about people I/we both know and allow your information of people's behaviour to be broadened.

You want to say that 'Squid thinks your decision should have been hard' but you haven't defined the decision and circumstance is always the kicker in all decisions.

SpaceSquid said...

Spielbergo: I don't agree at all. Your argument implies that being unable to experience a situation makes it harder to hypothesise on it than being able to experience it, but never having done so, and I have no idea why you would think that's the case. You can argue it's a more pressing concern for a woman, and certainly make the case that the average woman has given the implications and ramifications more thought because they know they may have to face the situation one day, but none of that means that they necessarily have a better grasp of the 'psychology'.

Chemie:

'The fact that the IUD, contraceptive ill and morning after pill could be conceived to be abortificants is relevant to questioning abortion and the 'ease' of the decision. '

Granted. There is something of a grey area with the consideration of "potential life" at the sort of stage we're discussing here; I don't deny it.

'The prevalence of miscarriages is also relevant as they can occur by negligence from the mother and can indicate that not all 'potential life' is being treated correctly or with the emotional impact you expect. Is drinking too much coffee negligent homicide?'

Let's be clear, here. I'm am not suggesting and never have that an abortion is murder, or homicide, or anything of the sort. All I am saying, and have said repeatedly, is that I find it very difficult to understand why someone making the choice could do so particularly easily.

'If *any* fertilised egg (from the moment the cell splits) is a potential life and should be protected and treated as a person then you are going to have to make some *very* serious adjustments to how women treat themselves and their lifestyles, contraception and medical research.'

Again, 'treated as a person' is something you've introduced, I'm talking about understanding it's potential to become a person. And, just as a side issue, the fact that the degree to which society would have to change in order to incorporate a new definition of right and wrong has no bearing on whether that definition is correct, only on whether it's practical to employ.

'Clearly we as a society already make judgements about potential life, when it starts and what we believe a women's response to it should be. Go and ask a woman who uses the pill if it was 'an easy decision to possibly be killing a potential life every month'.'

That again, I think, is a false analogy. The pill ensures (in theory) that the circumstances under which a life can be maintained cannot happen. We're still talking about the process not being allowed to start, as oppose to stopping it once it has.

'Should a woman with a mysteriously heavy period be guilt ridden? There is a difference of course between knowing about a potential life inside yourself and measuring the probabilities of it. But with modern testing you can know about a 2 week old pregnancy. Is killing by ignorance now acceptable?''

See above regarding 'killing'. With all due respect, I would submit that you are debating with what you think I mean, rather than what I've said, at least in part.

'I never meant to imply "if you haven't been through it, you can't have an opinion". I was implying that you might be drawing conclusions without the information and experience other people have (and I won't give on the internet), which is a common trait in all debates. I was attempting to imply that I could form a better and more immediate argument about the decisions people make and the effect it has if I could talk about people I/we both know and allow your information of people's behaviour to be broadened.'

I appreciate the clarification.

'You want to say that 'Squid thinks your decision should have been hard' but you haven't defined the decision and circumstance is always the kicker in all decisions. '

That's a hard point to argue against. Perhaps it would be more sensible to suggest I believe that the decision should be conditional on the method being used actually constituting the abortion of a fertilised egg, I don't think the decision should be easy.

Chemie said...

Whilst no never-been-pregnant person can ever completely grasp the concept, I think having the same plumbing does give you slightly different perspective of what is to come but ultimately not an awe inspiringly larger grasp of the situation. (As an extraneous example having had constipation and period pain as a teenager, I was reliably told I now have an inkling of what labour would be like)

'Let's be clear, here. I'm am not suggesting and never have that an abortion is murder, or homicide, or anything of the sort. All I am saying, and have said repeatedly, is that I find it very difficult to understand why someone making the choice could do so particularly easily.'

And I am pointing out that with destroying 'a potential life' as the definition of abortion, women make the decision or act recklessly, ignorantly or selfishly to create the same end every hour of every day. And it is a choice they make very easily.

'And, just as a side issue, the fact that the degree to which society would have to change in order to incorporate a new definition of right and wrong has no bearing on whether that definition is correct, only on whether it's practical to employ.'

I'm not sure if I noticed whether you thought abortion was murder (my bad if you did), statistically speaking it's the main reason for conservatives. I'm not arguing about the practicality of employing a different ethic on when life begins. I'm arguing that a definition of 'life' or 'potential life' at conception brings many hypocrisies into stark contrast, among them that a woman should struggle over a decision to abort a 4 week old foetus but feel nothing when she takes the morning after pill, takes the pill or drinks too heavily.

'The pill ensures (in theory) that the circumstances under which a life can be maintained cannot happen.'

Nope. No-one completely understands which part of the pills many functions prevent pregnancy for each individual woman. It can prevent ovulation (not always but it's the major function), it can thicken the walls of the cervix to prevent the movement of sperm (not always) and it can prevent the embedding of a fertilised egg. So a woman can ovulate, can have a fertilised egg and then deny it somewhere to grow . Hence stopping the process once it has started -by your own definition the 'abortion' of a fertilised egg. Pro-lifers have done much with this information, mostly ignoring the actual statistics.

Perhaps I should have written 'Is aborting through ignorance acceptable?'. And if a fertilised egg is in the system (so-to-speak) and denying a fertilised egg it's chance to grow is abortion, then I stand by my point. Is it an abortion if a woman who has no idea (faulty contraception, no memory or just plain stupid) that she has a blastomere inside her (but could of considered the percentages or taken a pregnancy test) and then drinks a bit too much ( despite being told it was bad for pregnant women)?. Should the decision not to take a pregnancy test and to drink a pint have been difficult? Or maybe just real life?

'Perhaps it would be more sensible to suggest I believe that the decision should be conditional on the method being used actually constituting the abortion of a fertilised egg, I don't think the decision should be easy.'

And I'm saying it happens all the time, intentionally or not and it can be very easy. If a fertilised egg is akin to a 8 month old baby are you therefore asking every woman to take counselling and measure her guilt when she takes the contraceptive or morning after pill? If it should be a difficult decision to abort a blastomere directly, is it therefore understandably easy and not worthy of consideration to abort a blastomere by playing the probabilities on the pill or acting 'recklessly' when potentially but unknowingly pregnant? If direct zygote abortion requires deep thought and discomfort, should every heavy period come with pangs of guilt or worries about 'what if'?

SpaceSquid said...

'Whilst no never-been-pregnant person can ever completely grasp the concept, I think having the same plumbing does give you slightly different perspective of what is to come but ultimately not an awe inspiringly larger grasp of the situation. (As an extraneous example having had constipation and period pain as a teenager, I was reliably told I now have an inkling of what labour would be like)'

I'll certainly grant different perspective, just not an automatically greater grasp (though the point regarding period pain is well taken).

'I'm not sure if I noticed whether you thought abortion was murder (my bad if you did), statistically speaking it's the main reason for conservatives.'

I didn't mention it either way, but I don't think it's a good idea to assume anyone who disagrees with you on that issue must take the most statistically common positions on that issue.

'I'm not arguing about the practicality of employing a different ethic on when life begins. I'm arguing that a definition of 'life' or 'potential life' at conception brings many hypocrisies into stark contrast, among them that a woman should struggle over a decision to abort a 4 week old foetus but feel nothing when she takes the morning after pill, takes the pill or drinks too heavily... So a woman can ovulate, can have a fertilised egg and then deny it somewhere to grow . Hence stopping the process once it has started -by your own definition the 'abortion' of a fertilised egg. Pro-lifers have done much with this information, mostly ignoring the actual statistics.'

You're doing it again ;). At no point have I specified fertilisation as the point at which the process kicks off. I am entirely aware that it may be that an egg is fertilised but lacks a place to grow. I would suggest that the the initiation of the process requires both fertilisation and a place for the foetus to gestate. Again, this is something of an abitrary line, but it just feels right that you need all requisite parts of the process to be in place before you can refer to it as "begun".

'Perhaps I should have written 'Is aborting through ignorance acceptable?'.'

I haven't argued anywhere that abortion for any reason isn't acceptable. If you mean 'Should someone feel bad about it occuring?', then that depends a great deal on the circumstance, but since I'm focussed here on the process by which the decision is made, I'm not sure it's particularly relevant here.

'Should the decision not to take a pregnancy test and to drink a pint have been difficult? Or maybe just real life?'

Hmm. You come back to this point later regarding playing the odds, and it's an interesting one. I think there's two ways of looking at this. You seem to be saying 'because I could accidentally or accidentally-on-purpose abort by just doing what I do anyway, I shouldn't feel bad about deliberately aborting.' The other way to look at it is 'Since I might feel bad about deliberately aborting, I can do things that might abort up until evidence arrives demonstrating I am pregnant'. The latter is arguably intellectually disingenous, but I don't really have a particular problem with it if it helps someone sleep better (again; not against abortion itself). The former seems to make very little sense, since it implies that the guilt and difficulty of allowing or causing X to happen accidentally is equivalent to deliberately causing X to happen, which doesn't seem sensible.

'And I'm saying it happens all the time, intentionally or not and it can be very easy. If a fertilised egg is akin to a 8 month old baby are you therefore asking every woman to take counselling and measure her guilt when she takes the contraceptive or morning after pill?'

No, I'm not, because recognising potential is very different to recognising fingers and toes, and a difficult decision is not the same as a tragic loss of a baby.

Chemie said...

'You're doing it again ;). At no point have I specified fertilisation as the point at which the process kicks off. I am entirely aware that it may be that an egg is fertilised but lacks a place to grow. I would suggest that the the initiation of the process requires both fertilisation and a place for the foetus to gestate. Again, this is something of an abitrary line, but it just feels right that you need all requisite parts of the process to be in place before you can refer to it as "begun".'

You said 'fertilised egg! not 'fertilised egg in the wall'. See I can just about pay attention when I want to! And it does make a difference because it redefines ( as is found in medicine and law) the morning after pill and the contraceptive pill.

'The former seems to make very little sense, since it implies that the guilt and difficulty of allowing or causing X to happen accidentally is equivalent to deliberately causing X to happen, which doesn't seem sensible.'

The only equivalent argument I can think of is in law with respect to murders and deaths. They are viewed differently and the sentencing and definition is often messy. But at most times 'negligence' is recognised as 'wrong'. Why not for the sake of a rigorous definition the same here? If we're attaching 'shoulds' to a woman's attitude to her pregnancy or potential pregnancy, the situation needs to be included.

And inbetween all this I should point out what I actually believe. I can't stand people with wishy washy definitions of pregnancy and abortion who are non-the-less staunch supporters or opposers. People who say every fertilised egg is sacred and must be protected as a person but are astonished when they hear the miscarriage rate or that the pill might be an abortificant. And I honestly believe 'abortion' can and sometimes should be an easy choice. There are harder decisions out there and for me the fate of a fertilised egg (attached or not) or a lump of cells is not among them. The fate of a formed foetus requires thought and a foetus capable of surviving outside the womb even more. And there is never an appropriate or quantifiable and therefore applicable 'should' about people's decisions or feelings only their actions.

SpaceSquid said...

'You said 'fertilised egg! not 'fertilised egg in the wall'.'

I shall grant I wasn't sufficiently specific, but for the record I said:
'conditional on the method being used actually constituting the abortion of a fertilised egg, I don't think the decision should be easy.'
This implies the egg must be fertilised for its destruction constitute an abortion. It does not imply that a fertilised egg is all that is required for its destruction to constitute an abortion. I certainly did not say that fertilisation is the starting point, which was my initial objection to your assumption. Still, my apologies for not making my position more clear.

'The only equivalent argument I can think of is in law with respect to murders and deaths. They are viewed differently and the sentencing and definition is often messy.'

You're kidding, right? That's really the only situation in which you can imagine there being a difference between how you'd feel accidentally doing something, and doing it deliberately?

Frankly, it still seems like you're intent on viewing this as a legal issue, rather than an issue of the considerations that are involved in a procedure.

'I can't stand people with wishy washy definitions of pregnancy and abortion who are non-the-less staunch supporters or opposers.'

I agree that anyone with a firm opinion on the matter should be able to articulate their particular definitions, but my problem with the above argument as it tends to be deployed (and I concede that this is a general point, which may very well not apply to you personally) is the assumption that because there are grey areas at where the process can be considered to have 'begun', there is no way to form a definite opinion on the process itself. That just doesn't track, logically. It means there can be demarcation disputes on where to draw the line, but the fact that the line is hard to draw does not mean you can hold no strong opinion on what comes after that line.

To take a very obvious example, you could argue any definition of 'drunk-driving' to be wishy-washy (certainly the current cut-off point in law can be argued to be arbitrary). It does not follow that people can't have strong opinions on people who are too drunk to drive.

'People who say every fertilised egg is sacred and must be protected as a person but are astonished when they hear the miscarriage rate or that the pill might be an abortificant.'

Well, this is a side issue, since I neither believe an egg (or anything) is sacred, nor do I believe in 'protection' so much as deep consideration, but I'd remind you again that the fact something may well break anyway is a shitty argument for suggesting it is OK to break it deliberately. Quite aside from anything else, this one particular part of your argument suggests the only reason it isn't OK to kill babies under the age of, say, one year, is that the mortality rate over that period is lower than 75%.

'And there is never an appropriate or quantifiable and therefore applicable 'should' about people's decisions or feelings only their actions.'

I agree with you with respect to feelings, but I'm amazed at the suggestion there isn't a quantifiable 'should' to certain decisions. Whether to sleep with a woman too drunk to know where she is, for example, is a fairly obvious example of a decision for which there is a quantifiable 'should'. You may not (and clearly don't) believe there is a 'should' for this decision, but that's you picking and choosing (as you have every right to), and not the application of some general principle that works across human life.

It also makes little sense to argue an action has a 'should', but the decision that leads to that action doesn't.

Tom said...

Ooo, I've missed a heated debate!

Senior Spielbergo: as requested here's my view on your academic question at the top.

Because abortion is a tough moral issue, there's a natural tendency to want to grasp for a black-and-white solution the problem, to draw a line as you say. There's also of course a legal imperative to do the same.

The problem is that it is not possible, scientifically, to draw that line. It's of course ludicrous to use birth as the criterion, but it's equally ludicrous (in my opinion) to use conception. On the surface the latter seems like a neat solution, but a cursory look beyond school biology will tell you that it's a much murkier process than you might think - as Chemie has already pointed out.

In my view a fertilised egg is simply a bunch of cells, no more, no less. And to be honest I don't see why the sperm that made it to the finishing line first is any more deserving than the millions that died trying. And once you start thinking that way, you're on the slippery slope to "every sperm is sacred" territory (which is the only fundamentalist position I have any sympathy with, notwithstanding the fact that it's insane). At the other end, immediately before birth, the baby is no less human just because the umbilical cord is still attached. And in between are the shades of grey, which you can't wish away with weasel words like "potential human life".

Vialibility is of course not a satisfactory yardstick either, for the reasons you've laid out. The reason I think it is used is because it corresponds, at the moment, to the point where, on average, people instinctively think the line should be drawn over abortion. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that there's a scientific/logical basis for drawing that line anywhere.

Tom

SpaceSquid said...

'And in between are the shades of grey, which you can't wish away with weasel words like "potential human life". '

It's worth noting, of course, that simply because a line cannot be drawn, it does not follow that an interval cannot be drawn.

Chemie said...

'Frankly, it still seems like you're intent on viewing this as a legal issue, rather than an issue of the considerations that are involved in a procedure.'

I am intent on applying rigorous terms to your notion of what someone 'should' feel or think or how they 'should' make a decision via precedent and quali/quantifiable evidence. It is of course a ridiculous and patronising notion to dictate to people how they should decide or what they should feel, especially on something as personal as this. Saying a woman's decision 'should be difficult' therefore implies and encourages the very authorities and society that surround the process, to make it difficult. If the decision 'should be difficult' lets make sure she sees a model aborted foetus, must hide her arrival at the clinic and also feel too embarrassed to ever talk about it again. Abortion *is* a legal issue, every circumstance is so individual it is ridiculous to apply over-arching 'considerations' to every situation. Society provides the framework for abortions/pregnancies to be taken and support for either situation. It shouldn't tell someone how to decide or make it any more or less difficult.

'but the fact that the line is hard to draw does not mean you can hold no strong opinion on what comes after that line.'

A questionable definition of terms leads to questionable conclusions and the weight they hold.

'To take a very obvious example, you could argue any definition of 'drunk-driving' to be wishy-washy (certainly the current cut-off point in law can be argued to be arbitrary). It does not follow that people can't have strong opinions on people who are too drunk to drive'

But I can also have strong opinions on people who drive when legally drunk but are fully competent ( I don't by the way)

Chemie said...

'Well, this is a side issue, since I neither believe an egg (or anything) is sacred, nor do I believe in 'protection' so much as deep consideration, but I'd remind you again that the fact something may well break anyway is a shitty argument for suggesting it is OK to break it deliberately. Quite aside from anything else, this one particular part of your argument suggests the only reason it isn't OK to kill babies under the age of, say, one year, is that the mortality rate over that period is lower than 75%'

My main argument concerning the high miscarriage rate has always been that some acts of direct abortion are worthy of debate, protesting and (to you) difficult decisions whilst the loss of the same zygote by 'natural' or 'accidental' means is not. People are not petitioning for intense medical research into saving everyone of these zygotes or women to be wrapped in cottonwool. I do however find it hard to expect guilt from someone ensuring the termination of a zygote that had low chances of survival anyway. Life (unlike law) is full of 'it would have happened anyway'. Medicine and emergency response (a better measuring stick) does however stick to rules abut saving who you can and playing the odds. If viability is used as a measuring stick, is it better to terminate a bunch of cells with 30% chances or wait a month and terminate a foetus with 70% chances? And the baby analogy doesn't hold, firstly it is a recognised person (unlike a foetus) and secondly there is no reason to kill the baby. There are plenty of reasons to terminate a foetus. Take the old lifeboat problem instead. Do you throw out the injured man who is slowly bleeding to death or a healthy person?

'You may not (and clearly don't) believe there is a 'should' for this decision, but that's you picking and choosing, and not the application of some general principle that works across human life'

I have my opinion. I have no right to expect anyone else to follow it. And I have absolutely no right to patronisingly declare what someone 'should' think. And you 'must not' sleep with a drunken woman with no decision-making ability. It's illegal.

'It also makes little sense to argue an action has a 'should', but the decision that leads to that action doesn't'

'Should's are applicable and measurable in real life to actions and not to feelings or decisions, that is the difference. You want all pregnant woman to go through a process of counterarguments, discussion, emotion and guilt to result in a 'difficult' decision that appeases *your* needs. Providing an unbiased list of options and allowing a woman to make an easy or difficult choice of her own making, somehow being wrong. Why aren't you insisting on this difficult decision process elsewhere? Before marriage? Before signing a will? Before drinking a pint? Before having sex? Before eating meat? You want someone else's decision about something personal to be difficult, irrelevant of situation and circumstance. It's a sweeping and quite shortsighted statement.

Senior Spielbergo said...

Squid - I think the whole idea of an “interval” is basically just a different word for “grey area”.

Chemie - My definition of “Abortion” at least in the context we are discussing here is an elective termination of a foetus resulting in it’s death (in other words a deliberate procedure that is performed not out of medical necessity). With my definition of foetus unfortunately being a little bit wishy washy, but would probably kick in roughly 3-4 weeks after fertilisation which is where (with my admittedly limited understanding of the development process) I understand that it has developed it’s own heart beat. It’s a bit wishy washy admittedly as it is difficult to draw a line between a bunch of cells and something that is alive, but in my book anything with it’s own little heart beating fits the bill of being alive.

In relation to this issue of accidental abortion – I think there is a debate to be had in relation to this and I think Chemie has already made the comparison between the legal definitions of Manslaughter and Murder. Probably one I would have to put some thought into but instinctively I would actually say that the legal definition of Manslaughter would hold up quite well in this circumstance as while Chemie gives an example of “drinking too much coffee” as fitting into that definition, the actual definition for Manslaughter requires not just Negligence but “Gross Negligence” which is a much higher standard of error and which would not encompass such things. Specifically it requires a level of negligence that any reasonable person would perceive it as falling far below the level of care that would be expected “given the circumstances”. Clearly knowledge has an impact on the circumstances – so anyone not knowing they are pregnant clearly would not be expected to act any differently or take any additional care than what they normally would. Likewise anything that isn’t obviously going to amount to a disregard for the life of the foetus once they are aware would not fit into that definition.

Tom said...

"It's worth noting, of course, that simply because a line cannot be drawn, it does not follow that an interval cannot be drawn."Maybe true, at least leaving aside the issue of how sharply-defined the boundaries of this interval are.

But if the point you're making is that the interval between conception and birth should be labelled "potential human life", I disagree. A baby one week before birth is not a "potential human life", it's a fully human life (or as near that makes no difference) that hasn't been born yet. Likewise at the other end a fertilised egg is to my mind no more of a potential human life than the sperm and unfertilised egg moments before conception. The only difference conception makes is that one particular potential human life now has a much larger chance of developing into a human. Spare a thought for the millions of potential human lives doomed never to exist, through no fault of their own, because their sperm didn't have the luck to get there first.

To label this astonishingly diverse interval with a name that does not acknowledge its nature as a continuous process of development is profoundly misleading. It reduces infinite shades of grey to one, thereby obscuring the true picture of pregnancy.

Tom

SpaceSquid said...

'I am intent on applying rigorous terms to your notion of what someone 'should' feel or think or how they 'should' make a decision via precedent and quali/quantifiable evidence.'

Fair enough; my point at the time was that there is a world of difference between what the law describes as two different crimes, and what the human mind grasps as two different situations.

'It is of course a ridiculous and patronising notion to dictate to people how they should decide or what they should feel, especially on something as personal as this.'

Well, first of all the degree to which it is personal rather depends on your view of what the procedure actually means on a philosophical level, but that's not really relevant as regards our respective viewpoints.

Second, by "how they decide" I assume you mean "the considerations they factor in", rather than attempting to tell them what they should decide. Even that isn't entirely what I'm doing. To dictate to someone "how to decide" would involve giving each criteria to be used or not, and some sort of preference ranking. What I am doing is giving one specific criteria which I believe should be in the mix somewhere. If that is 'patronising', then I'm pretty much OK with that.

'Saying a woman's decision 'should be difficult' therefore implies and encourages the very authorities and society that surround the process, to make it difficult.'

I can hold an opinion about the way things should be done without supporting authoritarian steps to ensure it happens that way.

'every circumstance is so individual it is ridiculous to apply over-arching 'considerations' to every situation.'

I'm not sure this is true. It would be ridiculous to assume any given consideration will always be equally weighted, but beyond my concessions regarding the various uncertainties as to how the process begins, I'm not sure how it can't be feasible to argue that the consideration should always exist in some form.

'Society provides the framework for abortions/pregnancies to be taken and support for either situation. It shouldn't tell someone how to decide or make it any more or less difficult.'

I am not society. I am expresssing my belief as to what I think the decision should include.

'A questionable definition of terms leads to questionable conclusions and the weight they hold.'

Imprecise definitions means conclusions have to incorporate that imprecision, that's all. Hence my conditional argument: assuming we can say X represents 'potential life', then Y. You may not agree on whether X does or doesn't qualify, and whether or not Y is a good idea, but arguing about the difficulty in defining X is a separate issue to the veracity of Y (unless you can prove X cannot exist at all, of course).

'But I can also have strong opinions on people who drive when legally drunk but are fully competent ( I don't by the way)'

True, but I'm not sure what your point is.

SpaceSquid said...

'I do however find it hard to expect guilt from someone ensuring the termination of a zygote that had low chances of survival anyway.'

This is clearly one of the places where we just don't agree.

'And the baby analogy doesn't hold, firstly it is a recognised person (unlike a foetus) and secondly there is no reason to kill the baby.'

My point was purely that "it could well break anyway" doesn't work alone as an argument. I could just as well say smashing a vase and then saying 'it was on a really unstable table' isn't really a particularly good excuse.

'And you 'must not' sleep with a drunken woman with no decision-making ability. It's illegal.'

The obvious two counters being 1) you are implying here that its OK to tell people what they should do if the alternative is illegal, which means you can also tell people they should not smoke cannabis, or copy CDs, and 2) if I change the example fractionally to 'sleep with a woman who is clearly too drunk to be making rational decisions but in her drunken state says yes', you immediately don't think you can state 'this is what should happen'.

In short, I think trying to use illegality as the yardstick is a get-out.

You want all pregnant woman to go through a process of counterarguments, discussion, emotion and guilt to result in a 'difficult' decision that appeases *your* needs.

Once again, you're just making up your own idea of what I believe. I said "difficult decision", that in no way means "I want them to feel guilt". .

'Why aren't you insisting on this difficult decision process elsewhere? Before marriage? Before signing a will? Before drinking a pint? Before having sex? Before eating meat?'

In order for me to discuss one decision and what I think should be involved, I have to list every other possible decision and say what I believe they should involve too? That's ridiculous.

SpaceSquid said...

'But if the point you're making is that the interval between conception and birth should be labelled "potential human life", I disagree.'

It isn't. My point was that we may not be able to draw lines between not a potential human life,a potential human life, and an actual human, doesn't mean that we can't specify intervals within which we are sure the three definitions can be said to hold. I am suggesting that "you can't say where potential begins, and when it changes into actuality" is a true statement, but that alone does not invalidate the concept.

This, by the way, is why I don't think Spielbergo is correct. There is a difference between a grey area and an interval. The grey areas lie between the intervals in which a definition can be made.

Chemie said...

Y exists on it's own. If X includes massive errors than any *application* of Y via it also includes questions and errors.

'It could have broken anyway' might not be a rigorous argument but is incredibly common in keeping an event in perspective with respect to culpable parties and alleviating guilt. Why not shove removing medical treatment from slowly dying patients into the growing number of analogies (also unbelievably common). Death is going to happen anyway, there might be a miracle around the corner but....

'Once again, you're just making up your own idea of what I believe. I said "difficult decision", that in no way means "I want them to feel guilt". '

In absolute definitive terms, what do *you* want ALL pregnant women to HAVE TO consider that ensures they have a difficult decision to make? Thereby ensuring that your perspective overrides that of a complete stranger's beliefs and must be entered into their thought processes. Bearing in mind that the emotional response to any of these criteria is beyond the realms of prediction. My question about other examples of decision-making is very relevant. It puts your own respect and intentions towards other peoples decision-making abilities and processes into the picture.

Saying a tragedy has occurred with every abortion is not only pandering to pro-lifers but is most assuredly not 'just' a recognition of the decision made. It's *your* judgement on the decision made and it does influence how abortion is regarded. I see no tragedy in the removal of some cells. It can be and is for some women an easy decision and if people would start accepting that then the women who have made their own moral, ethical and PERSONAL choice can finally treated as the decent intelligent[1] women they are, instead of some patronised tragic heroine.

I'll end with the really boring piece of logic. Not everyone thinks that blastomeres, eggs, zygotes, 12/ 24 week old foetuses are people/potential humans/of the same importance as other people. And they have them removed. Sometimes it's an easy choice, sometimes it's hard. Medically it's wiser they avoid the situation in the first place. It is absolutely not reasonable to expect someone to line up their point of view or beliefs with someone else's or to attach the same importance to certain actions. If you refer to something as beautiful every time it is mentioned, by people in authority, by people meant to be giving advise, by people writing laws, after a while the definition of beautiful shifts or people start to believe they should see it as beautiful.The same with the 'tragedy/difficult decision of abortion' . Abortion is abortion, ditch the adjective as it's function is influential speculation not fact.

[1] That was also a beauty of yours. Only thick woman think cells aren't babies. Thank you, I'll hand back my PhD now shall I? Only I can't read, so you'll have to pick it out for me.

Tom said...

Senior Spielbergo -

"With my definition of foetus unfortunately being a little bit wishy washy"That's the whole problem though. First of all the proverbial bunch of cells is just as alive as you or me, at least by the biological definition of life. Perhaps you meant a life separate to that of the mother? But that opens a whole other can of worms, not least why a heartbeat is such a vital indicator. The heart is just a pump, after all. When someone's blood is pumped artificially round their body during a heart transplant, do their human rights somehow cease to exist?

Of course you're free to use that as your line for abortion if you want to, just please don't think it's less arbitrary than any other line you might choose.

I'm with you on the subject of intervals though.

Tom

Senior Spielbergo said...

Tom – Oh I agree it’s an arbitrary line and hence wishy washy, but I’m not using a heart beat as a definitive “your alive if you’ve got one, your not if you don’t” type marker. I think it’s more that if something does have a heart beat I definitely associate it with being a living creature, and not just a bunch of cells. It’s still a grey area (or “interval” if Squid gets his way) for me that whole 4 week period prior to that if you can consider it a bunch of living cells, or if you can consider it a living creature. Which is of course an issue for me to one day work out.