I get letters...
A few days ago, I received an email from a My Case Against God reader named Austin Wilson. In his note, he took issue with my stance that abortion is an absolute right, which should be wholly unrestricted. Since I found his comments interesting, I decided to publicly respond right here. He requested that, if I publish his letter, I do so in its entirety. I will do just that, although I will respond paragraph by paragraph in the interest in immediacy. I’ve made no changes at all to the text of his letter.
I just happened upon your blog recently and I must say that I am very pleasantly surprised. You seem both well informed and capable of coherently expressing an opinion with supporting evidence. I am always happy to find out that such people live and the
Not much to refute here! :)
Enough introduction, I am writing you concerning your post on Tuesday. I agreed with all of your plans save one. The unrestricted abortion clause. Do you really think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days? What about if she were going into labor, would be all right for to abort the fetus right up until the umbilical cord is cut?
I’m not sure if he read my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, but it’s certainly relevant here. The argument basically states that females own their fetuses until such time as the fetus is born. The word “born” does have some leeway built into it, since it’s not exactly precise. So, to answer the first question: Yes, I think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days. If she were going into labor, I would say abortion is appropriate (whether medically feasible or not) until such time as the fetus completes emergence from the vagina. Once the emergence is complete, I would say the fetus has been born, thus ending the ownership.
If this is the case then you have missed the point of the argument. On television the debate is framed between religious individuals thinking about god and souls versus liberal individuals not wanting women to be subjugated by unfair laws. But all of that is inconsequential; the real question is what defines a human (and vicariously what rights does that being have)? In the process of life we start out as a zygote; a single cell that is in no way mistakable for a human being. At some point we develop into what we know to be human, a creature not only of a certain form but also possessing a degree of sentience that we feel is unique to us.
In my view, one of the best features of the Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument is that it applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias. With this argument, the fetus is the private property of the female by virtue of the fact that it’s growing within the female’s body. Thus, in the argument, humanity is wholly irrelevant, as is sentience, the ability to feel pain and bodily form. Additionally, I reject the notion that humans are intrinsically more valuable than other forms of life. To assert that humans are more valuable, one must assume that our characteristics are “value-adding” characteristics. For example, humans often cite their sentience as a value-adding characteristic. But, where is the hard evidence that sentience is value adding, while, for example, the ability never to sleep (ants) is not value adding?
This is the problem I have with the abortion debate; at some point between zygote and man there is the creature between that cannot be categorized as one or the other. At what point in this gray area can we pluck out that which is human and that which isn’t? When does abortion stop being about killing a few parasitic cells and start being about killing a baby?
Once again, I think you are getting wrapped up in the fallacious notion that humans are special, and thus worthy of unique protection. I’m not sure if you read it, but I think my post “Well, Aren’t We *Special*” is relevant here. I truly believe that, since all species are on the same exact Tree of Life, all species have equal intrinsic value. Our speciocentricity makes us believe our characteristics are value adding, while dismissing the unique characteristics of other species.
All of this is dependant on what you define as a human being. If a human is defined as having a soul, then prove if or when a soul exists. If sensation of pain is what defines a human, then don’t abort after the development of the nervous system. If you go by what looks like a human then you have a very subjective argument that can never be settled. If you define a human by a certain degree of intelligence and memory capacity, then you would have no problem ending the life of many mentally handicapped adults. Even babies that are several months old don’t match the above description of a human, could you conceivably end their life too?
You bring up all the relevant questions about “humanity,” a concept that is about as hard to pin down as “spirituality” or “morality.” That’s why, in my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, I throw out humanity and throw out morality as irrelevant. I believe abortion is a property-rights issue. In my view, that which grows within the body of a female is that female’s private property, until such time as it stops growing within the body of the female. What precisely is growing inside isn’t particularly relevant; as I said, my argument applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias, as long as they are growing within someone’s body.
I don’t really care about human life. But for those that do care, or at least pretend to, the above are some very important questions to consider. You can be as cut and dry with your views on abortion as you want to be, but unless you can seriously and adequately answer these questions to yourself, then your entire argument is faith based. To have opinions that ignore evidence or that have none to support themselves are opinions that are not grounded in reality. Unfortunately ungrounded opinions are what make up the vast majority of the abortion debate.
One thing that I think is very important to clarify at this point is this: Abortion, objectively speaking, isn’t acceptable or not acceptable. Indeed, nothing is objectively moral or objectively immoral. I analogize the idea this way:
Morality is like the weather and movies. To me, 90 degrees and no precipitation is “pleasant” weather. To another individual, 30 degrees with a light dusting of snow is “pleasant” weather. To me,
When speaking about abortion, the only stance one can have is an opinion-based stance. I’ve been battling Paul Manata about that, since he has the fallacious idea that abortion is either objectively OK or objectively not OK. He refuses to accept that it's just a matter of opinion.
I thank for your time in reading this e-mail, and I hope that it gave you some thinking material, or at the very least made you angry enough to try and prove me wrong. In either case if you feel like posting this on your blog then please only post it in its entirety.
Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write.
By the way, on a tangentially related note, there is a compelling discussion going on over at Kill the Afterlife about whether morality is objective or relative. Of course, I'm defending the relativist viewpoint. Be sure to check it out, since I think, during the next few days, the discussion will progress in interesting directions.