Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Born Indemnity

Along the same lines as last week's Tyler Clementi post, Monday's piece on the abortion debate spawned a surprising amount of healthy discussion among the Huffington Post peanut gallery. There were those who agreed with me -- which is interesting, because my overall point seemed mildly nebulous, even to me -- and of course those who ripped me to shreds. Since I really did seem to straddle the fence on this issue, it's tough to determine just which commenters I feel like I should want to vociferously respond to, but the following were the ones that struck a nerve with me in one way or another.

"I waited for the logic... but it was yet another subjective opinion by a male author. No logic here... What happens to the child after it is born? Is it born into a society that cares and nurtures it, or one that was just using it when it was a zygote only to abandon it after birth?"

-- Heauxbeaux

What happens to a child after it's born is hugely important, and I actually do believe that there's an argument to be made that a fetus may be better off in the long run meeting a swift end than to face a life of being unloved and unwanted -- which is always a possibility. The problem, of course, is that nobody has a crystal ball that actually works; nobody can predict someone's future with 100% certainty.

"So many assumptions, Chez. Where to begin? No abortion isn't ordering a pizza, but then again, to me, it's not murder. The belief that a soul enters the fertilized egg at the moment of conception and becomes human is a religiously based belief. I don't share it. I think I have the right not to. The basis of Roe v. Wade is the idea that to be a human being whose life should be protected legally, you need to have a body that can viably survive outside the womb. I agree with that and feel I should be able to live my life in accordance with my own beliefs."

-- cornflower

Two problems: First, I specifically stated that I don't believe in the religious argument for keeping a fetus alive no matter what; I don't go for the whole the-soul-is-created-at-conception thing. I thought I made that perfectly clear. Second, the claim that a fetus isn't truly "viable" until it can live without the assistance of its mother is a great argument at face value, until you consider that the point at which a child can survive outside of the womb -- and therefore officially be called a child -- varies greatly, and certainly advances in medical technology keep pushing that point further and further back toward the initial inception.

Speaking of which, this nice lady gets the argument I was trying to make about a fetus undeniably becoming a living human being relatively early in the process:

"I love this article. I believe that a woman should have the right to make decisions about her own body...but the problem the fetus part of her body? A fetus is a seperate body within her body. Does she have the right to make decisions for it? I believe it is hypocritical, as a feminist, for me to demand that my full humanity be recognized, but then deny it to someone else! I believe women should be able to save their own lives if the fetus will physically kill them or they need chemo or the like...but I just can't justify any other reason for the article states...this is a baby with its own brain waves, its own limbs, its own humanity. Religion does not even need to be brought into this...this is simply a human rights issue."

-- Laura Latora

She of course is quickly descended on by Rage-infected zombies:

"If you oppose abortion for yourself, then fine. But you cannot call yourself a feminist and in any way, deny another woman our right to decide for ourselves what happens to our own bodies. Whether or not the fetus is "separete" is beyond the point. In fact, whatever someone says about the fetus' so-called "humanity" is besides the point, if the woman does NOT WANT to be pregnant. No woman owes the use of her own body to a fetus. Just being pregnant is a huge sacrifice-one which no woman is obligated to incur if that is not her desire. It is a basic human rights issue that woman be allowed to make our own reproductive decisions. We are not in any way morally or even more, legally obligated to subordinate our entire lives to fetal survival if faced with a tragic, unwanted pregnancy. In other words, forcing a woman to sacrifice our own bodies to carry a pregnancy to term, is nothing less than involuntary servitude... We are not incubators."

-- VirginiaBlue, who goes on to say, in hilariously melodramatic fashion, "This is also a kind of rape, to legally force a woman to share her body with someone else, in this case, a fetus."

Right, except for one thing: If you accept that a fetus is a human being -- and for the most part I do, because as I said, I believe that at a certain point that's just fucking undeniable by anyone not looking for a way to rationalize a decision to terminate -- then whether you want it or not is irrelevant. It's life and you're extinguishing it. Simple as that. Also, if you believe that a fetus is human, then the inconvenience of your "sacrifice" in having to carry it will never trump the moral wrong done by ending the pregnancy.

Then there are the people who just let themselves and the moral argument completely off the hook by calling the embryo-fetus-whatever anything but a child:

"YOU CANNOT ASSIGN ANY "RIGHTS" TO A HUMAN ZYGOTE OR EMBROYO WITHOUT TAKING THEM FROM THE HOST ie the woman carrying said zygote. Period. End of story. If a zygote is given legal rights, they are taken from the woman, making her less than a fully functioning human with equal protection. Insisting that a woman carry a zygote to term takes away her rights to live her life as she choses. It says that once she is pregnant, all her personal rights are less than that of the zygote she carries, its needs supercede hers. This is completely unAmerican and unconstitional."

-- maribelle1963

If you say zygote one more time, like Beetlejuice it'll appear in your living room.

"Sorry, a fetus looking like a baby does not make it a human life. Walk into a toy store and buy one of the numerous dolls that are made to look like babies. They look like babies, but have absolutely no human consciousness. The same is true of a fetus certainly before six or seven months. It has no more human consciousness than a chick inside an egg. You may be thrilled about carrying a 15 week fetus and like to imagine that it is a baby, but many women hate it and see it as a unwanted tissue growth. Your unscientific religious fantasies instilled in you by brutal women-hating priests should not interfere with a woman's right to control her body and her life."

-- cee190

I love people who listen. What part of "I'm a fucking atheist" didn't settle into the space between your ears? That said, here we see the same argumentative fallacy that threads through so many of these responses -- that a woman's desire to have the child can somehow tap the wooden puppet growing inside her and magically transform it into a real boy. I'll take the question of whether a fetus is or isn't a living human being completely out of it; it still doesn't change the fact that desire and intent have absolutely no impact on physical characteristics. It either is or isn't a child; your opinion of whether it is or isn't is irrelevant.

Speaking of which:

"How about this: It's NOT a kid in your belly unless you WANT it... It becomes human when IT'S WANTED ! ! !"

-- hippynanainblingland

I rest my case.

As much as I, once again, had a difficult time buying into the following guy's ultra-pro-life stance, his points were essentially correct:

"I wonder if the guards at Auschwitz had a similar cognitive dissonance. Yes they must have thought, we are destroying life but doesn't Hitler have the right to choose? I realize that this is an extreme analogy but either you advocate killing human life or you advocate saving human life. There may have been a time before easily available birth control and the morning after contraceptives advertised daily on TV when abortion was a deplorable but understandable option. Today with the advent of better technology we know for sure that abortion is killing human life. Those people who deny this fact have something in common with those who deny evolution. Both groups are allowing personal beliefs to over ride proven science. Brain wave activity is a reasonable standard to go by. The ability to feel pain is another. At the point where a baby in the womb has brain wave activity and can feel pain it should have the constitutional rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

-- Warren Danzig

By the way, someone responds to him by saying, "In many cases abortions save lives," to which he responds, "And in every case it ends one."

I guess there really are no easy answers on this one.


John Foley said...

I don't know how fucking obtuse a person would have to be to think that ANY of your beliefs were informed by religion. It's not like it takes a lot of digging to determine your lack of affiliation. You mention it right there in the piece. Do they just ignore everything in your articles except the things they know will piss them off? That's pretty silly.

Anonymous said...

The line that should be drawn is when the child can survive without the assistance of its mother.

I am all for abortions up to and including the late teenage years.

squidboy said...

Lot's of opinions on two sides of this issue but the person with the most at stake doesn't get a voice at all. I'm not going to judge anyone for their opinions one way or another, karma and/or God will take care of that depending on your beliefs. I will say this though:

My mother was going to abort me and chickened out. Instead she took a semester out of college, went into a foster home and subsequently put me up for adoption where I was placed into a pretty cool family. I served in the military, graduated from college with highest honors, and transitioned into a career of service. I'm married with a couple kids of my own and live a great life. Thanks to both of my for giving me life and the other for making it a life worth living.

I would suggest this - if you're 'pro-life' why don't you put your money and/or time where your mouth is and donate some of it to a non-profit adoption agency. There are over 300 eagerly waiting parents for every adoptable infant born in the US. If you are pro-choice, how about considering a choice that would make a lasting impact on at least 3 lives.

Chez - thanks for boldly posting your opinions for the world to criticize. I don't always agree with you, but I will always respect your guts.

Mozglubov said...

Warren Danzig's points aren't actually solid:
Brain waves are not a reasonable standard to go by - the developing brain is far more complicated than "Oh look, his first theta wave! Now he's a real boy!" Likewise, how does one measure fetal pain? The study of pain is extraordinarily complicated, in many ways because a standard metric is so hard to quantify. Any pain argument necessarily brings along the baggage of arguments for vegetarianism, since we are far more sure about the capacity for farm animals to feel pain than we are a fetus.

Leigh said...

There is a simple answer, actually: it's nobody's goddamn business. It's a private, personal medical decision to be made between a woman, her partner if he is involved, and her doctor. That's it. If you're against abortion, awesome, don't have one. Otherwise, stay out of it.

I really don't understand why "pro-lifers" continually feel they have to legislate their views on everyone else around them, when they could obviously give a shit about the women themselves and the babies after they're born, especially when they take such issue when the government meddling in their medical affairs.

Tara Parker said...

"No woman owes the use of her own body to a fetus. Just being pregnant is a huge sacrifice-one which no woman is obligated to incur if that is not her desire. It is a basic human rights issue that woman be allowed to make our own reproductive decisions."

You've got to be fucking kidding me. Unless rape occurs, "being pregnant" is 9 times out of 10, a CHOICE. Christ, we live in 2010 - birth control is readily available. Or how about not having sex if you can't get your idiot hands on birth control?

Chez, excellent post.

Pea said...

I wanted to comment on your original article, but had difficulty putting my thoughts into a coherent form. I’m a feminist. I believe that I have a right to my own body. I believe in a woman’s right to choose.

I’m also 6 months pregnant. I cannot think of any situation where I could be convinced to voluntarily end this pregnancy. From the moment I held the positive pregnancy test in my hands, I have felt as though this embryo/zygote/fetus/baby is my baby. I see the dilemma in terminating a life to allow another to live fully, even while I support a woman’s right to choose abortion.

I’m a scientist, so I don’t go in for the whole “soul” debate. Viability is variable, and is changing based on new technologies. So when do I believe that a baby is a baby and deserves full human rights?

That’s the million dollar question. And I don’t have an answer.

Chez said...

But see, that's where the problem lies, Leigh -- and I think the overall point I was trying to make is one of logic and the paradox that occurs when you apply it.

If you believe that a fetus is a human life, then your argument is a losing proposition, because, yes, as inflammatory as this will sound, you're killing a living person. My argument was that modern technology has allowed us to see just how developed a fetus is, sometimes well before the cut-off point at which you can no longer have an abortion. Maybe you're still not convinced it's a baby, maybe you are -- that I can't tell -- although I do think the evidence is tough to argue with. But once again, if you look at it and do come to the conclusion that it's a child or has enough characteristics of being a child -- then the personal choice that you and your doctor make is meaningless; it can never override the rights of the child.

I really don't mean to be an ideologue about this, I swear. I think I'm just trying to have -- perish the thought around here -- a philosophical conversation.

Chez said...

Let me put it another way, from a moral perspective, you have to argue that what you're aborting is absolutely not in any way a baby -- otherwise you lose the battle.

Holly said...

Chez: you can fully admit that it's a baby and still not have a problem with abortion. Of course it's a baby. I am under no obligation to use my body for nine months to bring a baby into the world. Statistically, abortions are far safer than childbirth. There's someone on the waiting list for a kidney with my (very rare) blood type at this very moment, too, and even though I work from home, have no children, and would be an excellent candidate to donate with minimal fuss and interruption to my life, I am under no obligation to do so. Read the violinist defense.,Fall02/thomson.htm

Chez said...

Sorry, Holly -- like I said, you lose the argument. If you accept that it's a baby, then you're essentially saying that your convenience is more important than a human life. And that makes you immoral at best, a murderer at worst.

Holly said...

Chez, if you really believe that, your original piece advocates legal murder, and you should be willing to say so. The if-it's-human-your-convenience-is-trumphed argument is a very convenient argument for any male to make. The possibility of bed rest for nine months putting your life (and career, or caring for your other children, or or or or or or) on hold doesn't exist. What is your blood type, Chez? I'll find someone who needs one of your kidneys by the end of the day. You can live without one of your kidneys just fine. The total danger is far less than a complicated pregnancy and the total inconvenience to you will be FAR less than nine months on bedrest. Is your convenience more important than THAT human life? Of course it is. You have no obligation to use your body to save another human life against your will. Nor do I. Nor does anyone else. Not even women.

Chez said...

Oh I admitted it completely. What part of that didn't you get, Holls? I said that I accept the dichotomy of my beliefs.

And please, respectfully, do me the favor of not playing the "you're a man so you can't really talk" card. It's a convenient -- there's that word again -- dodge.

Although I feel like most of your argument is irrelevant -- once again, the human life you're carrying would theoretically trump everything -- please keep in mind that that fetus in your womb, unless you were raped, isn't there against your will. You did something to put it there.

Holly said...

You absolutely can talk about it, especially if it's your baby that happens to be involved. I admit that it's unfair to play that card, but it's also relevant. Your last sentence shows where these arguments inevitably end up -- women who have sex deserve the consequences of their "sin." You and I are both atheists, but we are not immune to the influences of our culture. Men are rarely raped. Men do not face the risks that women do in having sex. Men aren't told after the fact that their OTC headache medicine, or antibiotics for strep throat, or any one of a million other things interfered with the efficacy of their birth control pills and now, too late! You're pregnant! In a world where the pregnancy is fully human from early on, women become fully second-class citizens who have to be good/sinless/pure/chaste/whatever word you want to use and never have sex unless fully prepared to deal with a pregnancy. This is **exactly** what the people carrying the bloody fetus signs want, and you're definitely smart enough to know that.

It simply does not affect men anywhere near as much as women. That's an unfair fact that is relevant. And the rape exception doesn't make you (generic you there) more compassionate for letting the poor victimized women who weren't dirty sluts off the hook. Have you any idea what's involved in a rape exam? I've had one. It was equally traumatic to the rape itself. Thank all the nonexistent gods that I've had my uterus removed, because if I am ever raped again I'll not go near the criminal justice system. If I were raped again in an America where abortion was criminalized and pregnancy ensued, I'd be hitting up rich friends to get my ass to a country where abortion was legal.

You have a daughter. If the antibiotic she takes for strep throat at age 15 makes her birth control fail and her first time gets her pregnant, are you going to talk to her about her convenience vs. the human life that trumps everything inside of her? Or get on an airplane and go somewhere that the rights of the woman trump those of the baby?

It's a baby, and your daughter/me/any other woman has exactly the same moral obligation to carry it to term that you do to donate a kidney today. If you choose to, it's a wonderful, noble, selfless, giving act that should be lauded. But you don't have to.

Holly said...

Blogger ate my comment about why men's views count but are less relevant, since y'all don't get raped or ever have to spend nine months on bedrest for the sake of incubating. Women bear ALL of the physical risk and almost all of the financial risks of childbearing (the systems for extracting support from an unwilling father can be beaten, and are beaten every day). Therefore, our views are more relevant, which isn't to say that yours don't count, just that they don't count as much.

Did you notice that you ended up exactly where the bloody fetus photo holders always end up? You (the slutty bad girl) did something (naughty bad girl!) to put it there. That's where these arguments ALWAYS end up. We atheists take longer to get there, but that's always the final destination.

Chez said...

Holly, come on -- that's a hell of an exaggeration and you know it. I couldn't care less about your intent or state of mind, or about questioning your morality in having sex. It's a simple equation, completely free of judgment: you did something to create the fetus.

Tara Parker said...

"and never have sex unless fully prepared to deal with a pregnancy."

That's one of the keys right there, Holly. Common sense.

Steven D Skelton said...

A zygote, embryo, fetus etc. isn't a human life? Of course it is. What else could it possibly be?

Chez said...

But that's the issue: I actually do think there's a point where what's inside the womb barely qualifies as something that can't be removed. It's a sliding scale, however -- and that's where things get dicey.

Steven D Skelton said...


As this saga so clearly illustrates, if one posits anywhere but clearly pro-life or clearly pro-choice the hate comes from both sides.

It seems to me that you are being entirely reasonable. It would be nice if more people could be that way.

drater said...

I'd have an easier time agreeing with Warren Danzig's argument if the same people fighting abortion weren't also supporting the "rights" of pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control and morning-after pills.

Chez said...

I agree that that's ridiculous. You're a pharmacist; do your fucking job. I don't care what your religious beliefs say you should or shouldn't do.

J. Dack said...

It's not possible to have a rational discussion about this topic on the internet. Too many militants on both sides of the issue screaming "DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME $X!"

Oh and to the person who said men don't get raped, you're wayyyyyyy off base there sir or madame.

It's less common, sure, but dismissively saying it doesn't happen is wrong, and pretty much shows you're buying into a stereotype yourself.

sarah said...

I don't really see why a human life would trump everything when we're talking about an unborn baby. When we think of what being a human is, we tend to think about things that separates us from other animals, like our ability to reason, communicate, ect. A fetus have none of these things, in fact most of the cortex (the region responsible for our 'personality) does not develop until after we're borne. As an atheist I'm sure you believe that who we are is determined by our brains, and a fetus brain at the legal limit of abortion are not yet capable of performing any of the task that makes us specifically human. This will never change, no matter how much the medical field will advance. My point is that at that time the fetus has a brain that does not resemble a born human at all and it is therefore doesn't make sense to give an unborn fetus and a born human the same value. Or lets put it in this way, if we could put a brain from a fetus in the 3d trimester into an animal judge its behavior, we would definitely not classify it as human.

God said...

I agree with much of what you are saying. Rational discussion of when life begins and here is where my omnipotent all-knowing deity powers can enlighten.
Life begins after the second cup of coffee *rimshot*
I also have the ability to see inside of pregnant women and the baby is definitely alive with a heartbeat (my day job is doing ultrasound). So really the argument that the baby is not alive or a human being just because you have a couple of centimeters of belly skin between the fetus and being technically born is stupid argument. It most certainly is human and alive.

The simple solution is to harvest the baby and kill the mothers who decide to have an abortion, a zero sum game. Afterall, the baby is more innocent than the mother who wants to murder babies. It's logical on some level.

I disagree with you on the atheist belief. I most certainly do exist, you are reading the word of God right now. Hard to believe I know.
But let's look at logically, it's not that you don't believe, its the fact that you can't understand the definition of God.
Let's use algebra story problems, Let X=everything in the Universe and the outside of it as well, and then instead of using X, just call it God. Then if you look around X definitely exists. No one can deny it if properly defined. Really all of your religions and believers and non-believers disagreements are really just an argument of semantics.
I figured all of this out when I overdosed on cough medicine. (yes we have that where I am from, it's how I imagined my castle into existance and yes it is gray, I know before you even ask)


Anonymous said...

Yes, Chez, there is an answer to this. Create 100% effective, reversible, safe, and accessible form(s) of birth control. No more abortions.

Rebecca said...

I'm reading all the posts that those feminists wrote and I'm literally screaming, "Then don't get pregnant!" If they are so opposed to pregnancy and see it as a curse, then don't put yourself in the situation where you could get pregnant. TAKE PRECAUTIONS. Yes, I realize that rape is a big factor, but it's not the reason for all pregnancies. It takes two to get pregnant. It's like people have never heard of contraception before. I also realize that there are toxic pregnancies.

Contraception is the key to dropping the rate of abortions. I think contraception should be readily available to anyone and everyone. No questions asked.

I also agree that religion shouldn't play a part in the abortion debate. I don't know at what point the soul enters a body. Nobody knows and nobody ever will.

Anonymous said...

I actually think your argument, such as it is, is totally valid. I've dedicated a pretty significant chunk of time, money and effort to ensuring that I never have to make the decision of whether or not to have an abortion, for similar reasons.

You lost me, however, in validating that last comment. The philosophical argument for and against personal abortion is an interesting one, and one I try to respect all sides on (except for Sharron Angle's. She can fuck herself. And then take her pregnancy to term.). What I have a problem with is lending credence to people who compare it to the Holocaust, for many reasons, but in this case because logically the analogy doesn't hold up at all. The soldiers and doctors involved in the extermination of Jews and other minorities were, I'm pretty sure, not doing so out of respect for choice and personal autonomy. They were doing it for many complex reasons, many of them having to do with eugenics and dehumanization (another interesting facet of the conversation, if you ask me - one of the huge areas of philosophical discomfort I have with abortion is when it's done after finding out a fetus has Down Syndrome. On the one hand, raising a special needs child is something that shouldn't be forced on anyone. On the other hand, by aborting them you're essentially saying their life is worth less, which is a direction I'm incredibly uncomfortable with); But comparing the often very difficult choice of women to have an abortion to people who willingly colluded in the extermination of 11 million people is both bad form and logically unstable. On a more personal level, medically, I can't sustain a pregnancy. Were my scorched earth policy of birth control to fail, I'd have to make that decision, and it would probably really suck (no pun intended - I know, I know. Talk about bad form), and I'd like to think I could make that choice without being compared to the Gestapo.

As for everyone else - I don't know. Talk to me when there are social services in place to assist single mothers, since some 60% of abortions are obtained by women who already have children.

Anonymous said...

Legally if you hold that you cannot abort a child, what logical and legal basis do you have to prevent a child from suing its mother for negligent acts committing during pregnancy that lead to physical or mental defects stemming from said negligent action?

Or from creating a standard for pregnant women to abide by during pregnancy to ensure that the potential children are not harmed by actions the mother takes?

The idea that the foetus has rights while inside that argue against abortion but no rights otherwise is logically inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

If they're actually recognized as full people then why aren't mothers who cause abortions through drug use or risky behavior charged with murder? Or child endangerment/abuse?

Emily said...

I would just like to leave some statistics that I found on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families website.

As of 9/30/09, 423,773 children were in foster care. During fiscal year 2009, 255,418 children entered the system and 276,266 exited the system. Of those that exited, 55,684, a mere 20%, were adopted out. This leaves 114,556 children waiting to be adopted as of 9/30/09

According to the US Census Bureau, there are roughly 1.2 million abortions in the US per year.

Let's consider this for a moment.
If every single woman who would have had an abortion were forced to carry her child to term, there would be an additional 1.2 million unwanted children born into this country every year. If these children were born to mothers who could not emotionally, physically, or fiscally care for them, imagine the number of these children who would then eventually make their way into the foster care system. I cannot believe that an additional 1.2 million adoptable children would spark an additional 1.2 million ready and willing adoptive homes.

When we consider the rights of the fetus, I believe we should extend those considerations to the quality of life for the child after birth. Rip me apart if you want to, but I cannot bring myself to believe that 9 comfortable months in utero is honestly worth the YEARS of pain, anguish, and struggle that the vast majority of these children would endure. No one has an abortion for the hell of it. No one is skipping along to the abortion clinic saying, "Teehee! That sex sure was fun, now get rid of this pesky fetus so I can go have some more!" The women who choose to have an abortion do so because they know that at that point in time, they do not have the resources to effectively and sufficiently parent a child. Forcing them to do so anyway does nothing positive for the woman or for her child. So tell me this, if she carries her child to term, will you be there, ready and waiting, with a lifetime supply of Huggies and Similac? Probably not. When this child is put up for adoption, will you be there with 300 loving couples in tow, begging to give the child a home? Probably not. So what, then, do you suggest?

If you don't support abortion, fine- don't have one, but please be open enough to consider the potential benefits of the OPTION for our society.

Emily said...

I would just like to leave some statistics that I found on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families website.

As of 9/30/09, 423,773 children were in foster care. During fiscal year 2009, 255,418 children entered the system and 276,266 exited the system. Of those that exited, 55,684, a mere 20%, were adopted out. This leaves 114,556 children waiting to be adopted as of 9/30/09

According to the US Census Bureau, there are roughly 1.2 million abortions in the US per year.

Let's consider this for a moment.
If every single woman who would have had an abortion were forced to carry her child to term, there would be an additional 1.2 million unwanted children born into this country every year. If these children were born to mothers who could not emotionally, physically, or fiscally care for them, imagine the number of these children who would then eventually make their way into the foster care system. I cannot believe that an additional 1.2 million adoptable children would spark an additional 1.2 million ready and willing adoptive homes.

When we consider the rights of the fetus, I believe we should extend those considerations to the quality of life for the child after birth. Rip me apart if you want to, but I cannot bring myself to believe that 9 comfortable months in utero is honestly worth the YEARS of pain, anguish, and struggle that the vast majority of these children would endure. No one has an abortion for the hell of it. No one is skipping along to the abortion clinic saying, "Teehee! That sex sure was fun, now get rid of this pesky fetus so I can go have some more!" The women who choose to have an abortion do so because they know that at that point in time, they do not have the resources to effectively and sufficiently parent a child. Forcing them to do so anyway does nothing positive for the woman or for her child. So tell me this, if she carries her child to term, will you be there, ready and waiting, with a lifetime supply of Huggies and Similac? Probably not. When this child is put up for adoption, will you be there with 300 loving couples in tow, begging to give the child a home? Probably not. So what, then, do you suggest?

Chez said...


Sarah, A lot of the arguments I'm making here are somewhat abstract ones, and it shocks me that I have to say it yet again: IF you believe that a fetus is a human being, that's when things get philosophically difficult. That said, I do actually think that at some point while in the womb, a fetus becomes much more than something you can simply shrug off as a mass of tissue. I also think that happens before the cut-off point when abortion is no longer permitted. See the problem?

God, go back to middle school English; "existence" is spelled with an "e" and not an "a."

Anonymi 5:08 and 6:06, there are obviously people out there who want to be able to hold women who are negligent in their treatment of the fetus-baby-whatever they're carrying accountable. I'm not saying this is a good idea or a bad one, but yes, if you follow the line of logic that stems from a fetus being a human being at some point in its development, then yeah, mistreating that human being would legally be a form of abuse. I realize this opens a whole huge can of worms, but that's admittedly the way it would be.

Emily, wow -- you're going through a hell of a lot of trouble to essentially lose an argument. As I said, on a gut level I absolutely agree that some children would be better off never having been born; their lives are terrible, horrific, and if you could've nipped that life in the bud when it was nothing but a hint of a life rather than having subjected the grown child to that kind of existence, then maybe it would've been best. But from a logical and theoretically legal standpoint what you're saying is worthless. One more time for the cheap seats: If the thing a woman is carrying inside her is a human life, you cannot kill it for any reason other than another human life being put at immediate risk. That's the only way it balances out morally. Otherwise, no other consideration supercedes ensuring that that life is not summarily destroyed. Here's a quick way to understand the argument once and for all: If it's a human life then, as much as I hate to make a statement that jibes with the thinking of the fundamentalist crowd, you have to think of it the same way you would a baby that's out of the womb; it would have to be afforded all the same rights. Now try making that long-winded argument you just made in an effort to justify offing a one year old. Good luck getting it past anyone.

Satan said...

Is that the best you can do, being a simple spelling policeman?
I can do much better refuting God, I'm disappointed in you, one of my minions who doesn't know I exist yet follows me like a loyal soldier.
This time, I have to urge you personally to be a bit more witty or creative. And geez, by even responding to God, you acknowledged his presence.
Bad minion! Bad!
Now continue on with my atheistic work

And abortion was my idea

kanye said...

I've been following these discussions for a couple of days now, hoping that someone else would make this point for me. It doesn't look like that's going to happen, so I guess I'm up.

When you say that due to advances in medical science and technology, the age of viability is constantly being lowered, that's simply not true.

In the early 1900's, it was discovered that by placing premature infants in incubators, their rate of survivability could be greatly increased. By the mid-teens this practice had become commonplace and the age of viability had been lowered to somewhere around the 29/30 week mark.

Over the next six decades, as medicine and science evolved, the age of viability gradually creeped downward, until the the early '70s when an infant born at 24 weeks survived. That's where it stopped, and that's where it still sits today. The reality is, medical science hasn't lowered the age of viability in nearly four decades.

What doctors have been able to do is increase the survival rate of infants born at 24 weeks. In the '70s, the survival rate, represented as a percentage, was in the low single digits. Today, the survival rate is somewhere just south of 50%. The actual age of viability however, still remains at 24 weeks.

There have been several, maybe a dozen or more, claims of babies surviving at 23 weeks. In all of these cases however, the actual term of gestation in question. All of these babies were born with developmental characteristics (birth weight...etc.) that would suggest a gestational period greater than 23 weeks. It's possible that these babies developed at a slightly accelerated rate, but the far more likely explanation is that the month the birth mothers became pregnant, they also menstruated. The birth mothers simply didn't know that they were pregnant, and as a result, the date of their last menstrual cycle didn't accurately reflect how far into term they were.

Then of course, there's baby Amelia, from Florida. Born at 21 weeks, she is being held up as the new standard as to what constitutes infant viability. That's how she's often referred to, as the “21 Week Miracle Baby.” There are, however, some problems with the gestational period that's being claimed for her. To begin with, her claimed gestational period of 21 weeks is actually 21 weeks, 6 days. There's a second problem with her claimed gestational period as well. Baby Amelia was conceived through In Vitro fertilisation. The In Vitro doctor listed her date of conception as the date of gestational commencement, but that was a mistake. The standard, accepted practice is to assign the last day of the birth mother's last menstrual cycle as the date of gestational commencement. The doctor was supposed to subtract two weeks, but he didn't. For example: If Baby Amelia was conceived on the 17th of a particular month, her doctor should have listed the 3rd of that month as the beginning of her gestation. Baby Amelia really isn't a “21 Week Miracle Baby”, but rather a 23 week, 6 day baby...a 24 week baby.

The 24 week gestational threshold also appears to be situational. If the birth parents live in at least a decent part of a city, or the generally more affluent suburbs, the 24 week rule holds, but as the socioeconomic status of the parents decreases, the gestational age of infant survivability rises. By the time you get down to the very poorest of neighborhoods and most rural of locales, the gestational age of survivability has risen to 27+ weeks; only nominally better than what we could do nearly a century ago.

Studies are currently under way to try and determine why exactly this disparity exists. Of course, the reason is obvious: In our society, nigger babies and white trash babies just aren't as valuable.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea that there is a point during pregnancy when abortion becomes morally unsound. I also agree that this point not obvious or easy to determine.

Here is why I believe this, though: until a fetus reaches a certain level of development, it holds only the potential for human life, not human life itself. This is the same way that a seed planted in the ground holds only the potential to sprout a tree. Unearthing that seed would not kill a tree; it would prevent one from growing.

As for that "level of development," though? I think the point at which the fetus could survive and be healthy outside of the uterus is a good baseline. In fact, it may be the best we can do for now. No, that point is not EXACTLY the same for all pregnancies, but choosing a trimester is probably the most medically accurate we can get with current technologies.

That may not be a very satisfying answer for anyone, but I think it's better than nothing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I have seen people justify actions/behaviors/beliefs before, but some of these people take the cake. Chez, you are right when you say that if you believe it's a baby then the argument is lost. The reasons being used to justify murder here is just amazing. You could make an argument for killing anyone for almost any reason once you go down that road. Does your kid have a low IQ, are they ugly, or just inconvenient? Abortion is the solution. What about the person in the car ahead of you driving too slow, what an inconvenience, time to abort them. It's not complicated, it's a life. You either value all life equally or you value your life more. And, if you want to start judging who is more worthy or innocent, my money's on the zygote.

As for the argument of whether it's a lump of cells or a person...
DNA is commonly accepted as the most accurate way to differentiate people,why not use it to determine when a new life is created? If you wait for brain function and sustainability you could be in for a long wait. I know people who are 40 and still can't live on their own and barely register any brain waves.

I also like your point about not being able to predict the future. President Obama's mother was only 18, going to college, and not married when he was conceived, he's lucky to be alive!

Deborah said...

Crap. I haven't even read all of THESE comments - and they're fascinating. I'm going to throw out a question, though - to Chez and to whoever else wants to answer it (if, indeed, anyone does): Did the birth of your child change your feelings at all on abortion? Because it certainly did for me. There are many, MANY days that I wonder about the babies that I aborted, knowing now, of course, the beauty of the 2 kids that I have. And, to an extent, I made the choice for those 2 to be on this earth and sucking air. Oh, indeed, when I got pregnant with them I was married and we wanted kids. But still. I could have easily made the decision to terminate those pregnancies...and that is what is so powerful to me: That in this day and age, with abortion (for now, anyway) available, every baby born is essentially here at the mercy of the woman who decided to let it be born in the first place. And make no mistake: I'm NOT religious...and I'm not pro-life, either. I just think that you do the whole issue a HUGE disservice if you fail to see the magnitude of either decision. And the consequences thereof.

Lorien said...

When life starts, when life is sustainable outside the womb, when a soul or conciousness begins is irrelevant. What is comes down to is this; If you call a embryo/zygote/fetus/ unborn baby a life in the same way you call a born person a life, you open up a pandoras box of potential consequences for all women of childbearing age.

If an unborn child of any gestational age is granted the same rights as the mother, every miscarraige and every still birth is a potential involuntary manslaughter (or worse) case. Every physical and mental defect is a potential assault. Did the mother hit the gym too hard? Did she lift a box that was too heavy? Did she wear her seatbelt too high when she got in that fender bender? Did she eat lunchmeat? Take the incorrect cold medicines? Did she smoke? drink? take drugs? Did she not take her prenatal vitamins? Did the women who are prone to miscarriage due to their biology not take enough preventative measures to ensure they wouldn't become pregnant just to miscarry in the first place?

This potentially wouldn't even apply to only women who are much damage can occur in the very first days and weeks of pre-natal development before women even know they are pregnant. If you don't ingest enough folic acids you can end up with life threatening disabilities. Smoking and drinking and eating sushi or a subway sandwich, taking prescriptions, waterskiiing and rollerblading and doing everything that non-pregnant women should be able to do because would all become potential hazards to a potential fetus and they would have to essentially gamble everytime they do anything because they could be pregnant, if only just, and if they miscarry because of it, they might be held liable for that death.

I consider life, in a clinical sense, to begin at conception....yet I am pro-choice. I am not an atheist. If anyone wants to say that that makes me for the ending of human life, feel free. Life isn't black and white, but anyone wants to pretend it is, go right ahead. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I feel like granting an unborn human the same rights does infact hold the potential to enslave all women who have the capacity to become pregnant.

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing, Chez. You might not know this because you don't HAVE a uterus and therefore, this debate is none of your business at all. And yes, that's unfair. But you know what? Life's unfair. It's unfair that women get pregnant and men don't. It's unfair that we live in a world where people like yourself endlessly debate whether or not we can have rights OVER OWN BODIES. Do I come to your doctor's office and lecture you about refilling your viagra prescription? Do I hold signs outside of your doctors office because you're getting a tumor removed?

Abortion is a medical procedure. No body has the right to tell me what to do with my body, or the things that are inside my body. The fetus is in my body. Therefore it belongs to me and it is my choice whether or not I want it or not. I don't go around trying to take your kidneys out or shoving shit inside you, because it's and it's your choice what to do with it.

Birth control fails. I got pregnant using the pill, a condom and going and getting the morning after pill after the condom broke.

In your ideal world, where bundles of cells the size of my pinky finger are deemed "babies" the miscarriage I had at 8 weeks would be deemed involuntary manslaughter, because I had sex knowing of my high risk of miscarriage. 40% of pregnancies end in miscarriages and spontaneous abortion, are we going to start arresting women in their hospital beds because their evil baby-free bodies are killing the precious babies-to-be?

Ben said...

Chez, you make good points, but you seem unable (or unwilling) to transition your argument from the philosophical realm into reality.

What is the goal of your postulating? A more nuanced conversation about abortion on a social level?

To what purpose? So that women who abort have a fuller, more complete understanding of their decision? (That would be condescending of you.)

I am surprised at your surprise at some of the comments here, particularly the excellent points made by Emily, Sarah and Holly: you understand that your argument is a college debate on the moral responsibilities of a woman toward her fetus, but some women here just don't get that and are inconveniently considering your points in the context of laws, foster children, coat hangers and unintended consequences (read: accidents).

And you refute them, one by one, with a wave from your podium. Good for you. I'm sure nobody who's actually had an abortion has ever thought about it in the terms you present.


Chez said...

Nice rant, Anon 1:31. You're entitled to your opinion but dismissing the thoughts and arguments of anyone with a Y chromosome just makes you look foolish. You believe that what a woman is carrying when she's pregnant is a mass of cells and that because you created it and it's inside you, that gives you absolute authority over it -- including the authority to destroy it if you choose. You equate it with a tumor. Fine. I already said that if someone feels this way, any decision she makes to abort automatically becomes bulletproof -- therefore I'm not gonna argue with you one way or the other. I'm not saying you're wrong, by the way, just that you've made your decision, set your view in stone and any push-back on my part would be a waste of time.

Ben, my point is basically just to have a discussion, which I can't say I see anything wrong with doing. Sometimes it's good to talk about things, regardless of whether that debate actually changes anyone's mind or solves anything. In fact, I'd offer that considering all the fiery rhetoric on this topic -- talking about it with a certain amount of civility is a fucking good thing.

Now, of course the reality of the situation enters into it -- and I think I've been pretty damn cognizant of that. I said from the very beginning that this is a huge question and there are no easy answers.

Ben said...

Chez, I don't suggest that it's wrong to have a discussion on abortion.

I suggest that any such discussion that includes only token concern for the ramifications of its arguments is sophomoric at best and fodder for extremists at worst.

It's sort of like discussing the genetic superiority of one race over the other. Interesting? Possibly. But you'd better have good reasons.

kanye said...

I said from the very beginning that this is a huge question and there are no easy answers.

That sentence right there gets to the heart of the problem, of why people are talking past each other and aren't able share even the slightest bit of common ground.

Some, such as yourself, see this as a huge question with no easy answers, while others see this as a very basic question with one very simple answer.

It's not just that people can't agree on how to handle a problem, but rather they don't even agree that there is a problem.

Chez said...

Ben, I get your point, but I think by now I've made myself as clear as I possibly can about my motivation for bringing this up and my (admittedly very conflicted) personal feelings about it.

This whole thing started as a personal bit of cognitive dissonance -- and I tend to write about those because, well, this is my site and that's what I do -- over the fact that although I unequivocally support a woman's right to choose, for quite a few of the reasons stressed here by so many, I believe that in many circumstances it's morally wrong. There was certainly no ill will ever intended in this and I wasn't doing it solely as an act of intellectual and philosophical masturbation.

John Foley said...

Anonymous 1:39-
If the only thing you take away from this article is that Chez is trying to control women's reproductive's a good thing you decided not to sign your name to this.

C said...

As a male of the species I learned a long time ago that as someone who can't have an abortion I should NOT have an opinion about it. That's my stance, end of story. Women have every right to discuss until they are blue in the face if they so choose, men should shut the hell up about the topic altogether. Yes Chez this includes you. For those of you who think this is a cop out, I guess you don't see it as I do.

Chez said...

It's not a cop-out, C; it's just idiotic and not even worth bothering to refute at length.

J.B. said...

Something I read in the comments early on reminded me of the Tim Tebow commercial that aired during the Superbowl. It's always a happy picture that's painted by anti-abortion activists of unterminated pregnancies. But here is the "My mother was going to abort me, but..." scenario, as it could also play out in the world:

"My mother was going to abort me, but then decided not to and continued to drink through her pregnancy. When she had me, she neglected me, and I grew up resentful of women, which is why I raped and murdered 17 of them before I was arrested in 2004."

A potential person is by definition not a person, so we don't get to discuss the "great people" being aborted; potential could mean any possible outcome. We must stick with the facts of who the woman is, what is inside the woman at the exact moment in which the pregnancy is terminated, and what the circumstances of the termination are.

A woman and a zygote/fetus are connected. The woman is either a willing host or an unwilling host. The willing host is making an investment--when that investment is violated, it is a violation of her body, as that unborn child is connected to her body. We should treat those who would forcibly terminate a woman's pregnancy against her wishes as rapists. But for those women who do not wish to make that investment, who are the host to a parasite that as yet has a brain far less developed than that of an animal whose flesh graces many of our plates at dinner, I say she is in her right to defend her body from that parasite. It is a personal matter, and that is why there must be the greatest scope of reproductive health services available to everyone. Carrying to term to raise a child or give it up for adoption, or having an abortion, one woman's choice is no better than another's.

While complicated, the issue needs a firm, thoughtful stance. And if you believe in the exceptions of rape, incest, or protecting the life of the mother, then I don't think you can argue that a pregnancy equals personhood. We don't condone killing the child products of rape or incest left in their mothers' care, nor would we condone killing a child to regenerate the mother that died in child-birth. But we can understand forcing women to carry pregnancies to term under these conditions is cruel, dangerous, or grossly impractical. The same can arguably be said for other women who do not meet these specific extreme prerequisites for what some consider morally unobjectionable or less objectionable abortion, if you look at each case individually. Consider a woman in an abusive relationship who consented to the sex act in which she conceived, or a woman who has just been diagnosed with Huntington's disease, for example--would they be in the wrong to wish for an abortion? What of a couple who simply can't afford to have a baby? And if all these people seem reasonable enough in preventing a child from being created under these circumstances, why not include someone who simply is just not ready to have a child or be pregnant? We must ask ourselves: If we can find exceptions and expand on those, is a pregnancy really the same as a person? The answer seems to be no.

Obviously, as a pregnancy grows closer and closer to completion, the fetus grows nearer and nearer to personhood--that is, it is viable outside the womb. We then hold the mother and others accountable accordingly. As I said, there are certainly shades of gray, and this is where the argument should lie--not if abortion is morally acceptable, but when. It's not easy to think of instances where I would put the rights of a theoretical person ahead of those of a living, breathing human being.

For those who believe in no exceptions in the case of abortions: I think there's a serious undermining of humanity in the pursuit of dogmatic ideals. With less extremism and more compassion and understanding, women would be having less unwanted pregnancies, not more.

J.B. said...


While I'm vehemently pro-choice, and I support late-term abortion because I just don't think there's as much room for debate in the law is there is in a philosophical discussion, I can understand where you're coming from. I admittedly didn't read the big tiff you'd gotten into with others before I responded--I simply saw something further up the page and wrote what I thought.

Are fetuses truly viable if they are born grossly premature and cannot survive without serious, long-term medical intervention? Perhaps some would say yes. Seven months into a pregnancy, one woman could be giving birth to a girl named Samantha who must remain on life support for several months before she is healthy enough to be discharged, and another could be ending her pregnancy. For the sake of truly exploring the moral implications of that, maybe it's best not to ask why. But is this a bad thing? We would say yes, ending a presumably viable life is a bad thing.

So we've covered the moral implication: it's a bad thing. But I think late-term abortion, however, needs to be available because it is easy to conceive it being the best option. If a mother is in danger and/or the fetus, this option makes more sense. If the pregnancy is to be terminated regardless, then perhaps it is better that there be a bad thing than a worse thing, whatever that worse thing may be (for instance, suicide). Abortions generally occur earlier in the pregnancy, not later, so that we can be grateful for, but we should also remember that late-term abortions are primarily done for urgent reasons.

It should be this mindset that informs the law, I think, which is inevitably more rigid and less nebulous. Late-term abortions should be available because there are times when they are necessary, even if there are a few of which we may question the moral legitimacy. It certainly is unclear when exactly a fetus becomes a person, and it would be foolish to argue that a child five seconds before he enters world is not a person. But the number of abortions performed on "people," I would have to argue, is quite rare, and rarely based on a simple choice.