EA Reneges on Original Games

The Rights of the Unborn

Sperm_fertilizing_egg_2 The moment a sperm fertilises an egg, an inexorable process is put into motion that, all things being equal, results in a child. The rights of the unborn can begin no earlier than this point – fertilisation – or else every sperm is entitled to rights, an absurd proposition that makes every teenage boy into a mass murderer. But this is not to say that we must grant all of our human rights at this point in the process – a process that will result in a person is not a person – and it is this disagreement that lies at the heart of the abortion dispute.

There is no more contentious issue in contemporary metaphysics than abortion. That it is a metaphysical issue is beyond dispute, since there is no absolute way of assigning when a human life begins – it is up to the individual to determine this for themselves. On the one hand, we have people who believe a human life begins at fertilisation (the pro-life camp), often as an outgrowth of religious beliefs, although note that the establishment of fertilisation as the beginning of the life process is a scientific belief. On the other hand, we have people who believe that a woman has a right to control her fertility and pregnancy (the pro-choice camp), which leads to the metaphysical belief that the earliest states of the development process – the zygote, embryo and (to some extent) the foetus – are not yet a human life.

As with any purely metaphysical argument, it cannot be resolved through discussion. To one who sees the early life process in terms of an unborn child, abortion is the murder of innocent unborn children – the very idea causes cognitive dissonance for obvious reasons. But equally, to one who sees the early life process as a physiological state inside the body of a woman and not (yet) as a person, the pro-life camp's rhetoric causes cognitive dissonance – especially in the light of the fact that many such people know friends or relatives who have terminated a pregnancy, and the framing of their loved ones as child killers naturally causes strong offence.

The metaphysical positions involved are not subject to change, therefore if this problem is to have a solution in the spirit of relative ethics it requires concessions by both sides. The pro-choice camp must concede to their opponents that – at the very least – an abortion erases a potential child from the future. Conversely, the pro-life camp must concede to their opponents that legal bans on abortion do not prevent abortion, they rather create a dependency on “backstreet abortions” which make the procedure vastly more dangerous, placing the life of the pregnant woman at risk. Since the pro-life stance prioritises human life, it has a duty of care to the potential mother that cannot simply be overlooked.

There is some common ground between the camps that it worth emphasising. Most importantly, neither side likes abortion – pro-choice advocates are not walking around with a T-shirt reading “I heart abortion” – both sides see it as both serious and unpleasant, and share in common a desire to reduce the number of termination procedures that take place. At the moment, approximately a quarter of all pregnancies throughout the world end in abortion – and almost half of these occur in countries where abortion is illegal. For context, it is worth remembering that the vast majority of abortions take place during the period of pregnancy when miscarriages occur (i.e. the first twenty weeks). Almost a third of all pregnancies end naturally in miscarriage during this period. This also means that one in three abortions effectively induces a miscarriage that would have happened anyway – it is not the case that every abortion erases a child from the future.

The Catholic Church is a major driver in this issue, because it takes an absolute stance and refuses to allow for abortion under any circumstances. The political theorist Bhikhu Parekh, who I’m honoured to report was appointed to the House of Lords in the UK in 2000, has provided a balanced perspective on the Catholic stance to abortion. He has said on the subject:

When the Roman Catholic Church insists on the sanctity of human life and rules out all forms of abortion, it is clearly being absolutist, unworldly, unrealistic, and oppressive. However, is also serves the vital function of affirming an important value, nagging our consciences, requiring us to reflect publicly and critically on our moral practices, and forcing us to consider issues we would happily prefer to suppress or ignore. We might, and in this and other matters should, challenge and even reject the Church’s views, but this does not detract form the fact that its voice deserves to be heard with respect.

He challenges the Catholic position, noting (among numerous other arguments) that if the Catholic Church can think in terms of a just war, it should also be able to think in terms of a just abortion. He also observes that while it is free to ban abortion for its followers, it has no right to force this value upon society as a whole – and if it insists on behaving otherwise, then liberals may attempt to force their value of equality of the sexes upon the Catholic Church, requiring the ordination of female priests and even female Popes. Perhaps his strongest argument on this issue is that “banning abortion damages human dignity as much as and to an even greater degree than allowing it.”

There is a larger issue in the Catholic Church’s position that Parekh does not touch upon. If the aim is to reduce the number of abortions (a goal the opposing sides of this issue have in common), then we should strongly advocate contraception – preventing a pregnancy through pre-emptive methods must be more desirable than terminating it. When Christian Churches support solely a policy of abstinence in respect of sex education, they are being irresponsible with the lives of children. Advocating abstinence is reasonable – but this does not circumvent the need for adequate sex education. The condom is the most powerful tool we have for minimising the number of abortions that take place (not to mention preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS). I contend it is only a matter of time before a Catholic Pope changes the Vatican’s stance on contraception; its followers already possess a diverse range of views on the subject.

Some will argue a position that equates to demanding that teenagers be responsible with their sexual activity. It is wise to caution prudence, but unreasonable to expect perfect compliance. Whereas other mammals go into heat periodically, and can be isolated during this time to avoid unwanted pregnancies, humans are effectively in heat from the onset of puberty onwards – and animals in heat experience a powerful sexual drive that can be utterly overwhelming. This does not mean the individual is not responsible for their actions, but some diminished responsibility does occur – giving all the more reason to advocate the use of contraception and, for that matter, to encourage masturbation as a means of releasing sexual pressure in teenagers. If one cannot prevent sex from occurring – and we clearly cannot – we can at least council safer sex. In terms of minimising abortion, this is the responsible course of action.

The ethics of abortion rest upon the individual’s beliefs. From a theistic perspective, the decision to abort a pregnancy is between the individual and God; otherwise, between the individual and their own conscience. It is a terrible choice to have to make, but if a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy that is her judgement to make. The decision to become a parent must belong to the parents, and thus to the potential mother. We have no more business interfering in this than we do in any other aspect of family life.

Those who wish to represent the rights of the unborn are free to do so – but if they resort to intimidation and inflammatory rhetoric they become self-defeating. Those they wish to convince are not swayed by such an approach – rather, they become further entrenched in opposition as a result of such aggressive tactics. Christians who oppose abortion must find a way to feel compassion for the woman, as well as the unborn child, otherwise they fail both in their religious duty and in their goal of being persuasive. People are not open to influence by those who do not respect them.

The metaphysical disagreement over when a human life begins will not be resolved, therefore we will all have to compromise to some degree. Now that abortion has been culturally established, it cannot be eliminated – the genie is out of the bottle. But we all more or less agree that we want to minimise abortions, so we should focus on this common goal. There is no better way to achieve this objective than providing adequate sexual education to teenagers, and, if they are unable to resist sex, teaching them to always use a condom.

This is an extremely contentious issue so please, play friendly in the comments.


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This is one of those few issues where I have a hard time having a calm respectful discussion. I am squarely in the pro-life camp, and thus think what we are talking about is the killing of millions of inconvenient human beings. So I doubt I'll be able to talk for long, but I want to point out how vapid some of your statements will seem to someone of my view.

Take this, for instance:

It is a terrible choice to have to make, but if a man chooses to kill a slave that is his judgment to make. The decision to remain a slave owner must belong to the master, and thus to the current slave owner. We have no more business interfering in this than we do in any other aspect of a mans property rights.

Or try this:

The metaphysical disagreement over whether a slave possesses human rights will not be resolved, therefore we will all have to compromise to some degree. Now that slavery has been culturally established, it cannot be eliminated – the genie is out of the bottle.

Or what about this:

Conversely, the pro-Jew camp must concede to their opponents that legal bans on concentration camps do not prevent killing of Jews, they rather create a dependency on “backstreet killings” which make the procedure vastly more dangerous, placing the life of the German at risk.

Chris - this is no hyperbole to us. This is exactly how your statements sound. Consider - we believe these are human beings, human persons. No amount of talk about how difficult the choice is, or about how people die anyway, is going to change that.

[This is a bit of a ramble and goes far beyond abortion. Sorry - I should engage brain before posting, but there may still be nuggets for the determined reader!]

I believe that the new life (in the sense of "not dead", see below) begins at the moment of fertilisation; it's difficult to see where else it begins. I also believe that without external support from the mother, that new life is doomed to death - many are doomed through miscarriage anyway. Abortion is a way for a mother to withdraw that support. It is a conscious decision to kill, with the corresponding conscious action. As far as definitions go, it appears I'm with the pro-life camp.

Now consider the children who are born prematurely around the world, and who die (or are left to die) through lack of available support. The technology may be available in the hospital down the road, but... oh dear... all the ICU cots are full. Or it may be available in another country. Or it may not yet be developed, or will never be developed. Is this better or worse than abortion, and why?

Or consider the mothers who kill or abandon their children because they cannot support them (yes, it does happen in the UK, and has done for a long long time). Or how about the disabled person taken into hospital and left to starve rather than being fed (happened to my nephew - more than once)? The pensioner with severe Alzheimers taken into care and not treated when she caught pneumonia (my grandmother)? Abortion should not be considered in isolation, but as part of the larger issue of how to handle someone who will die without support. Is a conscious decision to kill always "bad"? And how do we define "bad" anyway?

I consider "alive" as a scale, not as binary. ("Dead", however, is binary :-) ) What are the chances of this living thing (people are a subset of animals, which are in turn a subset of living things) continuing to stay alive given its current situation? What external support is required, and what happens if it is withdrawn? An aborted foetus is "less alive", if you will, than a healthy delivered baby (say) 10 months after conception. But that baby is, to me, "less alive" than (say) a teenager who has learned to survive independently of his or her parents.

Pro-life? Pro-choice? I guess I count as extreme pro-reality. Death comes to us all; and it comes to most of us in the blogging world through lack of support. We could in theory be coddled and cossetted; we could have massively more medical services than we do, with the corresponding costs to the economy. We could take foetuses - children - who are presently killed through abortion, and we could save some fraction of them, allowing them to be brought up by a different group of supporters. Or we could give pensioners longer lives, or breast cancer sufferers, or depression sufferers, or.... But it all takes resources, and those resources may be used in other ways. The other ways might keep more people alive. Or they might let more people play Halo 3, or communicate.

I was going to end this with "Which is worse, abortion or (some unthought-of topic X)?" But then I realised this needs a definition of "worse", and by extension "better" and "good". I don't have one, except perhaps my highly personal one that having got this far, I intend to stay alive for as long as I find life interesting, so "good" is anything that keeps me alive and interested in life. Abortion's orthogonal to that; it is neither good nor bad to me. It just *is*. It can be done; it will be done; I'm a little surprised (you may not be) to find I don't have an opinion on whether it *should* be done.

Ref the comment from Wonders for Oyarsa (which came in while I was writing my own) - substituting slaves and Jews for children is a great way of illustrating a point. I'm not entirely sure I agree with the point, however. In all cases, I think, the substituted people would normally be able to stay alive without support - the situation is symmetrical. I'm saying there's a built-in asymmetry to abortion: typically, the child will die without the parent, the parent will not die without the child. Familiar ground, I suspect; but if I were to re-word still again to use the example of an elderly person with Alzheimers, rather than a slave, a child or a Jew, would the result be as compelling? And why (or why not)?

- Peter

You are much braver than I for taking on this topic. I very much appreciate your call to sanity and a focus on an attempt for the polarized camps to come together to work on the issues about which there is agreement. Good luck with this one.
Your humble chicken,

For an interesting/amusing perspective:

Tertium Quid: Abortion

I think one of the most interesting and yet almost entirely oblique approach to the issue is the 2004 movie Primer. (It's an incredibly smart bit of film making and braintwisting science fiction, too.)

Primer isn't about abortion, but it is about "affecting something before it is anything," which is a far less landmine strewn territory emotionally and psychologically, yet you can still consider relevant elements of the abortion debate. But hey, I'll take any excuse to plug a favorite film of mine :)

I'm pretty sure I've replied on at least the contraception/sex ed subject here before... but in a nutshell, the problem isn't that abstinence isn't a truly viable alternative to contraception, it is--but because it will always seem ridiculous (or at best, quaint) if not taken as only part of the wider picture of Christian sexuality.
Abstinence only makes sense in that context, the "whole cloth" theology, particularly of the Catholic Church.
Abstinence, the ban on contraceptions and abortion, basically anything that touches sexuality is deeply enmeshed in a holistic conception of the human person and his relation to his family, his neighbors and God. The Catholic Church is roundly criticized for its stances on all issues regarding sexuality; yet scrutinizing any one piece is like pulling out a jigsaw puzzle piece and complaining that there's no clear picture. The picture only emerges from the sum of the whole.
Which is why we'll never see the Pope, in this era or the next, rescind any prohibitions relating to contraception. A lot of Catholics mistakenly believed such a change was coming with Vatican II, and instead they got Humanae Vitae, an encyclical reaffirming the Church's stance on human sexuality. (Wikipedia has a fairly decent rundown on this document: ) Any expectations for the change along these lines in the future will be similarly disappointed. These stances are so centrally rooted in the core of Catholic theology as to be inseparable.
Now I know that's a lot of blather about what many regard as a pretty byzantine spirituality, considered hopelessly outmoded and outdated particularly on this very difficult subject... but the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I think the Catholic Church has developed a stunningly nuanced conception of humanity in all its beauty and strength, weakness and ugliness. And on the issues of sexuality, I think the Church understands that even in their most "natural" state, families are fragile enough; but with all the artificial means we've introduced for manipulating and frustrating natural processes (to say nothing of the commoditized sexual culture we've created), we've created new cages for ourselves just when we thought we were getting out of the old ones.

So phew, that's my round of RC defense for the day :) Supporting the Catholic position doesn't get us any closer to more global solutions, though. The hardest and (seemingly) least satisfying solution to the problem of abortion is addressing not the legality or illegality of the act itself, but helping create a culture and a world where nobody would even think to consider having an abortion in the first place. It's a horrible symptom, but abortion is in many ways a symptom of deeper ills, fissures between modern men and women, families, classes, on and on.

So, yeah. I guess we just clean up world poverty/horrible wealth disparity and a whole glut of various cultural ills, and we'll have this whole abortion deal buttoned up in no time! :)

Oh, and Chris, I did just start reading Charles Taylor's "Sources of the Self," I'll let you know how it goes. While it's a formidable volume, Taylor is as clear, readable, and charming as ever.

Abortion is mass murder, but its economical mass murder, therefore it cannot be minimized unless its economic convenience is minimized. Murder is illegal because its more convenient to live in a society where your death at the hands of others is deterred by legal consensus. The genocide in Darfur by Chinese sponsored forces, or the genicide in Iraq by US sponsored forces, is economical mass murder because it gives the sponsors a return on investment in the form of greater control of energy resources.

Its fundamentally an economics issue - as ghastly as that sounds.

Peter, regardless of the need for support, we are not talking about removing that support. We are talking about killing. Specifically, we are talking about dismembering and crushing skulls.

"Abortion is economical mass murder, therefore it cannot be minimized unless its economic convenience is minimized."

Yes, and all of us here, including Oyarsa, are dependent on the economic one-sidedness that permits our current lifestyles at the expense of others, who pay the price with their lives on a staggeringly overlooked scale.

So criticising abortion is hypocrisy. Why don't we all go back to scratching our living out of ground, powering our economy by animal labour?

As for the Catholic Church, their nuanced view of humanity propagates more death and suffering than the ...(oh, can't make that comparison, Godwin's Law). They are all criminals.

Now that I'm on suffering, what is the real problem with death? Is it the phenomenon itself, or the suffering associated? We ourselves kill off millions of microscopic organisms every day, but we don't worry about that because they are replaced and they don't suffer. Something with no nervous system cannot suffer. Slaves and Jews can suffer.

As for waste of potential life, who here is in favour of in vitro fertilisation?

Also, why is it being treated as a modern phenomenon?
Abortion is as old as time! (and a good deal older than your religions)

When a chicken lays an egg. Is that a proto-chicken, or a potential chicken..? No.

It's a chicken's period. It comes in a handy shell.

Once it is fertilized, are we saying it is now a chicken? Really? Because it looks like a few cells have turned red or whatever, not like something I can eat with chips, or that will wander about pecking at worms and clucking. Even when the chick comes pecking out of its shell with that special little tooth... It's not a chicken. It's a chick.

Why are humans any different? Is it because we are special?

we are not talking about removing that support. We are talking about killing. Specifically, we are talking about dismembering and crushing skulls.

Absolutely. Abortion is bloody and unpleasant, and the remains are generally treated as clinical waste rather than a person, which is required by the view that a foetus is a non-person but rarely helps the situation. It's also over far more quickly than starving to death someone who cannot feed themselves, for example, or witholding treatment for a trivially treatable condition.

I'll word my original point slightly more strongly: We (that's a worldwide "we") kill many, many humans each day in our hospitals, in our "care" homes or behind closed doors in our streets. In some cases we kill them by physical violence (and again, abortion isn't the only example of this). In other cases, we kill them by neglect. I repeat my - hopefully polite and still friendly, although Chris is the ultimate judge of that - point that I don't think aborting a foetus is a special case. It's the one that has the most immediate power to shock, partly due to some of the very graphic images that are out there; but it's one part of a wider picture.

Thanks for the comments everyone. This is, of course, an extremely contentious issue. The central thrust of this piece is that this issue rests upon metaphysics, and thus the nature of the problem varies from person to person. Since we must allow freedom of belief, we cannot force our metaphysics upon other people - no matter how horrified our own metaphysics may render us in the face of something like abortion.

I understand why people who believe a human life begins at fertilisation are horrified by abortion, but I don't believe such people are able to view the issue from the alternative metaphysics - and to a certain extent the reverse is also the case. This issue can only be resolved by understanding the different perspectives in play; in the absence of this, it's "war forever".

(zenBen is correct in saying that abortion is not a new issue, but this is neither here nor there since the historicity of the subject does not in this case affect its resolution.)

Peter: the issue of the fetus being unable to support itself comes up in a famous thought experiment relating to abortion. I was going to run this as a warm up to the subject, but expecting (as is the case) that the positions are too entrenched to give way there seemed little point - I felt it more efficient to just tackle the subject directly in one piece. Suffice it to say: those with pro-life metaphysics don't care about the support issue, so it doesn't have persuasive power.

Jack: On the subject of the Catholic Church's position, it is important to remember that the idea that human life begins at fertilisation is extremely young. For the majority of the Catholic church's existence, the unborn was not considered to recieve a soul until "quickening" (when a woman feels the fetus move), although there have been times when it has been claimed to be at 40, 80 or 116 days. It may be the case that the current position on sexual issues in the Catholic Church are consistent - but this does not and will not prevent it changing its position in the future. Its new position will also be consistent - but it will also be different.

I still maintain, while the Catholic Church's position on abortion is exceptionally unlikely to change, its position on contraception eventually will. The recent dissolution of Limbo is actually evidence of why, but too big a topic to go into here. I would estimate, using my usual yardstick that the Catholic church is about 100 years behind social trends (which, as I have mentioned before, I do not see necessarily as a bad thing) that the position on contraception will be changing around 2060 or so. I sincerely hope it doesn't take that long.

The great strength of the Catholic Church is the Papal system (although it is also a great source of criticism, of course), which allows the Church to adapt itself to the times. There can be no doubt its theology will change again, and again, and again, for as long as there are Catholics (which will likely be for as long as there are people!)

However, since this involves predicting the future, which is fairly arbitrary, I do not expect agreement on this point, nor is this point strictly necessary to the matter at hand.

(Oh, and Jack: are you reading "Sources of the Self" or "A Secular Age"? It's the latter we were talking about before...)

Well, I already made my position clear: we will not resolve the metaphysical dispute, so we have better find a way to work towards our common goal, which is minimising the number of abortions that are carried out. Those of you that don't support sex education and contraception as a means to this end should feel free to share alternative suggestions.

Fighting to make abortion illegal is a squandering of political resources that should be seriously reconsidered since this battle cannot be won and fighting it actually makes the situation worse by further entrenching the opposition in its converse position.

As long as there are people, pregnancies will be terminated. They will be terminated whether abortion is legal or illegal. It is a terrible thing, but no amount of horror in the face of it will change the situation, and attempts to force one's metaphysics on others are utterly counter-productive. We need to find new ways to approach this problem.

Best wishes to you all!

Anyone who thinks abortion is an easy choice clearly has no first-hand experience with it. And anyone who thinks its the same thing as murder clearly has no first-hand experience with either.

Troy - I wish I could respond to that openly; I can't due to confidentiality.

Chris, I'm afraid I don't see this issue as containing the sort of irreconcilable metaphysical divide you posit. I think you've stated the postions of the two sides quite rightly, but it doesn't lead to the conclusion you propose.

Let's take the first group. As you correctly say, "the establishment of fertilisation as the beginning of the life process is a scientific belief." Therefore it is subject to rational scrutiny and scientific definition. And by every scientific measure, it seems indisputable that life does indeed begin at fertilization. The embryo at that point possesses its own unique DNA and begins developing according to its own inner functions. Though it requires continued support by the mother's womb, it contains within itself the informational and physical structures that will naturally lead it to develop into an adult human. So scientifically, whether "life" begins at conception is not really disputable.

Religious beliefs then guide what pro-lifers believe should be done in response to this scientific fact. That is to say: Christianity (like most religions) holds that human life and human personhood are inseparable, and that humans are intrinsically valuable. This leads to the ethical conclusion that people have a duty to care for other people, and that this duty is not dependent on the capacities or properties of the ones cared for. Human life -- which is scientifically definable -- creates a moral imperative for others to care for it.

Of course, people do not always perform that duty, and indeed we are all to some extent guilty of neglecting it for our selfish reasons. But Christianity does not accept that this state of affairs disproves the moral imperative. Rather, it counts this neglect as sin and calls for people to recognize it as such and do their best to overcome it (specifically through the power of Jesus, but that's not relevant to my point here).

So, in the case of abortion, Christianity holds that the mother has a duty to care for her child, even though that child is totally dependent upon her for its continued survival. While she certainly has a choice as to whether to perform this duty (in the sense that she has a free will), she does not have a *moral* choice whether to do so.

Note: This Christian ethic doesn't end with the mother. It also holds that others have a duty to care for mother and child, especially the father, but including an entire society that must do its best to care for the weak and poor. So the common objection that pro-life arguments are only about oppressively telling mothers what to do doesn't address the full extent of the ethical principle, which ideally guards the mother's well-being as much as the child's.

So this is the metaphysically-based ethics of the pro-life position: the unborn child is a human being, human beings compel a moral duty for us to care for them, and so we cannot ethically withdraw our care.

So, then, let us now take a look at the ethics of the pro-choice side, to see if the two positions are in fact parallel. It seems immediately obvious to me that this position is not starting from the same sort of metaphysical basis.

The pro-choice argument doesn't hold that the fertilized embryo is not alive. Indeed, it cannot do so, as the scientific facts of the matter are quite clear. Instead, it holds that the embryo should not be defined as a separate being from the mother. The fetus is, according to the usual pro-choice postion, a part of the woman's body. Because of this, the mother has no more moral obligation to care for the fetus than she has to care for her body parts. She may abort the fetus with no more moral compunction than she would have trimming her toenails or having a tumor removed.

The trouble with this position is that it seems to propose an alternative definition of human personhood that has unacceptable consequences. It requires a separation of definition between human life and human personhood. Why should the embryo, with its own DNA and internal processes, be seen as a part of the mother's body rather than as its own person? The only logical answer seems to be because it relies on the mother's body for all its sustenance. It is not independent or capable of making its own choices, and so if these are considered the criteria for personhood, then it is not a person.

But as the pro-lifers argue, what is the difference between an embryo that relies on its mother's womb for all its sustenance and an infant that relies on its mother's breast for all its sustenance? Neither is capable of surviving without support or of choosing to stop relying totally upon another person. The same may be said for the elderly, the very sick, and the disabled.

This is why pro-lifers see the pro-choice position as leading implacably to the legitimizing of infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, and ultimately genocide (for what group of people cannot be said to depend ultimately upon a society for existence, and thus be subject to a society's choice to discontinue that support?).

I cannot see a way out of this ethical conclusion for the pro-choice position, and indeed some pro-choice intellectuals have come to agree with it. The best example would be Dr. Peter Singer of Yale, who argues that infanticide should be legalized.

Of course, if one rejects the religious principle that all human life is intrinsically valuable and compels a duty of care, then there isn't really any reason not to embrace this conclusion. But it doesn't seem that most people are willing to take this step, and historically it seems that such an ethic leads to nothing but oppression and horrifying slaughter.

Ethan: I appreciate you taking the time to write such a comprehensive response! You clearly have a firm grasp of the pro-life position, but your understanding of the pro-choice position seems slightly incomplete.

Regarding your opening statement:

"I don't see this issue as containing the sort of irreconcilable metaphysical divide you posit"

Yet your description of the two camps does indeed proceed from different metaphysics! You say yourself:

"It seems immediately obvious to me that this position is not starting from the same sort of metaphysical basis"

So you acknowledge that the positions are metaphysically distinct, which leaves only the irreconcilable element unaccounted for. Yet, you cannot reconcile the different metaphysics yourself so I am not sure what your opening point is supposed to mean...?

"Why should the embryo, with its own DNA and internal processes, be seen as a part of the mother's body rather than as its own person?"

Now you come to the nub of the metaphysical distinction. The zygote and embryo are bundles of cells. They have no cognitive faculty, they are not what people with pro-choice metaphysics consider a person in any respect. Life yes, person no (from the pro-choice metaphysics).

(By the fetus, this gets harder to assert, and by viability all but impossible to assert.)

The key distinction is thus that pro-life metaphysics want the developing organism to be considered a person from fertilisation, while pro-choice metaphysics see personhood as occurring much later.

I also want to point out that sperm and eggs are also alive. They are life - single celled life forms. But they are not people. The pro-choice metaphysics says that even after fertilisation, what exists is life but not a person... personhood occurs later in this perspective (often, but not always, once cognitive faculty appears). This is the irreconcilable metaphysical distinction in a nutshell.

I find both sets of metaphysics valid, personally, but also quite distinct and obviously incompatible. Hence I suggest concentrating on the common ground, which is minimising the number of terminations that are carried out, rather than squandering our influence trying to convince people to change metaphysical position. It's not going to happen in a world where perhaps a billion people have been involved in an abortion procedure - you cannot expect to convert a billion people to a metaphysical position that will make them into murderers! It's never going to happen, and the attempt to do so just increases the cognitive dissonance on both sides.

I want to see progress on this issue. It begins with the difficult, but not impossible, capacity to see from the perspective of both sets of metaphysics, and then - perhaps - to allow the freedom of belief that is the only reasonable choice in a mature society.

I am not saying that people with pro-life metaphysics can't attempt to persuade people to keep their unborn children (especially if they will help provide financial support!) - just that attempts to change people's metaphysics in this context are aggressive and counter productive, and attempts to change the law are even more counter productive since we already know banning abortion doesn't stop it, it just makes it more dangerous.

Thanks once again for taking the time to air your views - I greatly appreciate it!

Hey Chris - just letting you know that I'm here and listening.

I think WfO, Peter and Ethan have all put anything I could say far more eloquently than I could.

As for waste of potential life, who here is in favour of in vitro fertilisation?
I am, under certain restrictions. I know of some people who have undertaken IVF treatments, but have asked that all fertilised eggs be implanted, rather than throwing out any excess. This also implies fewer eggs being fertilised at a time, and therefore greater expense.

Anyone who thinks abortion is an easy choice clearly has no first-hand experience with it. And anyone who thinks its the same thing as murder clearly has no first-hand experience with either.
This is very much an argument with no evidence to support it. I would also suggest that no-one has said it is an easy decision to have an abortion, I have friends who have had abortions, and not one of them found it easy. All of them have regretted it though.

One last thing I wanted to put to the discussion is that most people in the abortion camp seem to always argue that there is just a mass of cells that is being removed in an abortion. This is the case only for the first few weeks (I still disagree with very early abortions, but I can see the reasoning there). After 10 weeks, there is a very small, but very obviously human creature inside the womb. Abortions in my country are legal up till about 24 weeks. A point before which children have been born prematurely and survived (albeit with much medical help). These children must be considered in any argument for abortion, and it seems to me that everyone jumps to either end of the zygotes->baby spectrum and misses the middle.


Thanks for chiming in! I'm glad you raised this point about the "window of opportunity" here - I mentioned in the piece that both sides would have to make concessions, and the concession that I suspect the pro-choice camp will have to make is to narrow the window somewhat.

The pro-choice metaphysics are most consistent with abortion carried out during the zygote and embryo stages of pregnancy. At the fetus, which as you say is from about 10 weeks, the position becomes weaker.

About 88% of abortions take place within approximately this range. If peace between the two camps is possible - and it may not be - the pro-choice camp may have to yield to only allowing first trimester terminations. However, they will not do so while it seems that the pro-life camp will stop at nothing short of banning abortion since they will be reluctant to yield ground that could lead to this outcome, even though (realistically) I don't see a ban on abortion being a plausible outcome in this conflict.

Thanks again for sharing your view. I know this is a difficult subject for everyone, irrespective of their position on the matter, and I appreciate everyone's willingness to discuss what would normally be a verboten subject.

Best wishes!

Chris: "If peace between the two camps is possible - and it may not be - the pro-choice camp may have to yield to only allowing first trimester terminations."

Have you looked at the legal / political situation in central/northern european countries? During the whole exchange I wondered why your proposals for resolution sound so familiar while your outline of the positions of the opposing camps sounds so extreme...

translucy: I confess, I do not know much about what is going on with this issue in central or northern europe - I'd welcome a precis or a link!

Perhaps my outline of the two positions sounds extreme because I am trying to consciously balance the terminology used by both camps. Also, I feel both positions are quite extreme, albeit in different ways. Any critique you may have here would be welcome.

[...] if one rejects the religious principle that all human life is intrinsically valuable and compels a duty of care[...]

I reject that principle. All human life intrinsically *is*. Value depends on the observer, and since I reject an absolute God-as-observer I must reject any notion of absolute value.

As for "legalising infanticide"... I'm a great believer in emergent behaviours. My view is that groups of people - ultimately societies with a small "s", rather than Society with a capital "S" - end up with emergent behaviours that are roughly tuned to their environment. In a less-than-idyllic environment, killing the old and infirm and the very young while letting the mature and healthy survive seems reasonably well-tuned. The killings may or may not be *legal* depending on how the [rulers of the] society wish[es] to tilt the playing field for the individual; laws are merely ways of threatening force against an individual, and are followed or not as an individual wishes. It seems that, in many societies, killing mature and economically-productive adults brings a higher threat of force than killing the yet-unborn and the very old.

It should be noted that Peter's belief system is quite outside of most conventional positions. :)

Peter: The greatest sanctions lie against killing those in the prime of life because we pretty much all agree that such people are indeed people.

As for the old, I haven't tabled any discussion of euthanasia in the Ethics Campaign as it currently stands... I felt that abortion was a bigger "hot button", and the euthanasia debate is not so very different as to be particularly elucidating.

I don't know... it's not like I need to cover *everything*, I suppose... but maybe I should add this to the list. Thoughts welcome.

It should be noted that Peter's belief system is quite outside of most conventional positions. :)

Who, me? :-)

The greatest sanctions lie against killing those in the prime of life because we pretty much all agree that such people are indeed people.

I agree that the greatest sanctions lie against killing those in the prime of life. I agree that we pretty much all agree that such people are indeed people. I disagree that one is a consequence of the other; I happen to think this is wired in at a much lower level (see most animal behaviours). I agree to differ ;-).


You're right that I didn't really state my position correctly. I didn't mean that the two positions proceed from the same metaphysical basis. What I intended to argue is that it doesn't follow that the two different metaphysics can't be evaluated rationally in order to decide which one is true. I don't subscribe to your unspoken premise that we cannot know which of the two metaphysics is superior.

As I said, the pro-choice metaphysic of humanity defines human personhood by something besides the existence of a distinct human organism. In your latest post, you picked "cognitive faculty" as the litmus test. The trouble with this definition in creating a humane ethical foundation is that cognitive faculty is a continuum rather than a binary state. It grows and diminishes with age, varies from person to person, and is at all times extremely hard to judge and evaluate. A case in point is the continued scientific debate over the cognitive status of people in a "vegetative state" or a coma. So whether one is a human person worthy of protection from casual destruction seems to no longer be a binary moral question. Infants, the old, the sick, and even the stupid could reasonably be deprived of their right to life to whatever degree they are held to lack full cognitive capacity.

While there are certainly other rights that I would readily accept being restricted based on cognitive capacity -- such as the right to self-determination and autonomy for children -- the right to life is the fundamental right upon which all other rights depend. It seems to me that it is improper to base the assignment of this fundamental right upon a contingent property. Rather, due to its fundamental nature, it ought to be based on the fundamental and basic existence of a distinct human life.

Your point about sperm cells and eggs also being human lives is easily refuted. Neither type of cells contains a unique chain of human DNA distinct from both mother and father, and neither by itself contains the informational and physical structures that naturally lead to the complete human life cycle. But when combined together, the resultant life form possesses both these properties, and thus by scientific definition must be considered a distinct member of the human species, i.e. a human life.

Of the two metaphysics, then, only the pro-life one provides the foundation for a workable general ethic of life. The pro-choice metaphysics, if it is to avoid defining abortion as murder (a step few pro-abortion thinkers are willing to take) invariably must propose an alternative definition of humanity based upon a contingent property of humanity. No matter which one is picked, the result is a human right to life that is negotiable for some members of the human species. For an atheist such as Peter Crowther or Peter Singer*, this may not seem problematic. For a theist of any stripe who believes that human beings have an absolute value, it is starkly evil. And for a student of history, it is a recipe for genocide.

*Correction: Peter Singer is a professor at Princeton, not Yale. Sorry for the mix-up.

Chris: Unfortunately, I lack the resources to do research on this (and to translate it into an intelligible form):( But the idea of compromise between the two camps seems to be very much the case where the welfare state is still strong (or generous) enough and civic society is still homogeneous or equal enough (the old equality vs. freedom debate) to make a joint effort at reducing unwanted pregnancy as much as abortions (who is still paying for free condoms or social workers these days?).

Ethan: "Of the two metaphysics, then, only the pro-life one provides the foundation for a workable general ethic of life."

The question is if a "general ethic of life" is diserable - that such an ethic is not more "workable" than any other form of ethic (see Chris' post on relative ethics) is (abundantly ) clear from looking at the various poltical attempts of placing an absolute value on human life throughout recorded history.

Ethan said: "No matter which one is picked, the result is a human right to life that is negotiable for some members of the human species. ... And for a student of history, it is a recipe for genocide."

The existence of abortion means massive slaughter of humans will happen? When you say "genocide," do you mean abortion itself? Otherwise, I'm completely mystified; I don't see the relationship.

Going forward, with what I have to admit probably seem like random thoughts:
It seems to me that many who oppose abortion refuse to discuss alternatives that work, most especially contraception and education. In fact, the people who fight vehemently against all three are the ones I notice the most.

Does anyone consider what we would do with all the additional humans, and their offspring, lacking abortions? I did not say extra, or undesirable, just additional. Considering the additional burden on our resources, I still could never say that overcrowding -- or overpopulation, or severely burdened resources -- can justify an abortion.

I'm quite certain I shall never be able to bring myself to believe in some ancient invisible unprovable god thing. Therefore any argument based on "facts" that are really just beliefs chosen because someone else said so (priest, church, god, book) is powerless to help me change my mind. In fact, I have had too much exposure to cruelty and violence -- unpleasantness, to sum things up -- from people who espouse a belief in religion.

I can respect a belief, most easily when it is presented as such. My respect comes with difficulty when someone puts out an idea as indisputable fact, especially with a demand that I must believe the same thing.

It is actually amusing to me, to see people talk of slaves and Jews and (post-birth) infanticide and genocide and slaughter, when discussing abortion. Unfortunately, expressing my amusement will no doubt engender animosity or resentment. However, consider that my amusement does not mean dismissal! I think (I think I think) I get the point!

More deeply, without regard to any statement here: I try to consider why someone might choose strong or unusual words, on any side of a discussion. Why would a person choose comparisons that I think are extreme or inflammatory (in a manner counter-productive to the speaker's intent)? I try to examine things that way. If someone puts forth a fact I cannot believe, why does he or she say it? If I feel something said is just plain ridiculous, why do I believe that? And how do I avoid ridiculing, and instead try to be respectful? Sometimes I even wonder why I say what I say (that is, I try to examine what I mean and what I say). There are many questions I ask myself; and I have to wonder if they occur to other people, too.

There are two quotes that come to my mind. This seems to me a little like picking a greeting card. If I find one that says what I want to say, but better or more succinctly -- or if it says something I would say, had I only thought of it -- am I bad for not "doing it myself"? Is the thought, feeling or belief no longer valid because someone else put it in print? Nope.

So I found a button (as one might pin to a shirt) in a shop, saying this:
It is *your* book. He is *your* god. *You* burn in hell.
Now, this seems quite rude to me. But I look at what might be the intent. I might say it differently:
I will never believe in the invisible things that you do. Perhaps I have my own invisible things. You cannot force yours on me. I will not suffer from my inability to adopt your beliefs. Now go away, and leave me alone.

And I saw a bumper sticker eleven years ago, with words that really stuck with me:
Abortion stops a beating heart.
I thought about how effective that is. No argument about life or sentience, viability, religion, rights, and on and on. Just a simple statement. I thought, "Well, how can you argue with that?"

So these are my thoughts, my ideas. Not much about my feelings. But there it is. Maybe a summary would be from the button and the sticker:
You can't make me adopt your religious views. As a corollary, therefore any argument based on your religion is pretty much useless (though worthy of some respect, and possibly quite interesting).
And (how to say it differently?) Abortion stops a beating heart. I throw that in just because it made me think, instead of react to some kind of statement, demand, or argument.

Ethan: thanks for coming back to this. You argue your corner well, but you are still arguing the metaphysics. I started to respond to your specific points, but I don't think it would be helpful for me to do so.
It is your right to believe that one set of metaphysics can be asserted over another, but if you choose to believe this in this instance there is really nothing more I can offer to you in this debate.

We can talk about differing metaphysics, and it does happen that people change their metaphysics, but it won't happen often in this instance for the reasons of entrenchment already established, and it certainly won't happen on the scale necessary to ban abortion, which (ironically) would not stop abortions from taking place anyway.

Let me close by reiterating my case: no-one likes abortion. We all agree we want to reduce the number of abortions. Banning abortion doesn't work. My suggestion is sex education and contraception. I'm open to other suggestions, but continuing to argue the metaphysics isn't a viable solution to this problem.

Thanks once again for taking the time to comment!

"a human right to life that is negotiable for some members of the human species"

"All human life intrinsically *is*. Value depends on the observer"

Metaphysics are only a smokescreen to hide the fact that we are mortal. Life is never worth very much, and the more readily the value of the lives of others can be diminished, the more readily it is done. Stop thinking about humanity for a second, and think about your last meal.
Life feeds on life. Just because we have a rather advanced society of naked primates, doesn't raise our essential existence above that of anything else that feeds - nor does our convoluted economic structure raise our self-preservation actions above those of anything else that eats its own young.

The major reason why I am pro-choice is because I wouldn't want to increase the suffering of anything thats already here, nor add to the tally of the sufferers. How to pick the fortunate future people from the unfortunate is beyond me, but with our massive over-population, what need?
The main reason I dislike the pro-life stance is the massive hypocrisy. Pro-LIFE?! Pro-People-Like-Me-As-Long-As-I-Don't-Have-To-Pay-For-Them!

zenBen: Not all life feeds on life... don't let the apparent ubiquity of this practice confuse you into thinking that all life is predatory. At the foot of every food chain is something which derives life from energy. This is the root of all life.

But, this is at best an aside.

As to your main point, as a Utilitarian, the pro-choice stance is already determined for you. There's no need to get angry at the pro-life camp for their equally pre-determined position. They really are motivated by a desire to preserve the sanctity of life (in their own terms); it is as unfair of you to criticise their position from a Utilitarian standpoint as it is for them to criticise the pro-choice perspective from a pro-life standpoint.

They have a rights-focused view, you have an outcome-focused view. Any solution to this issue must be found somewhere between these two perspectives, it cannot be found by claiming the superiority of one ethical perspective over the other.

A few nuggets for thought.

Are humans more valuable than other living creatures?

As asked above - what is 'bad' about death? The suffering? The curtailing of any potential endeavours, discoveries or creations from that person/creature? The numerical disadvantage it puts our race (i.e. humans) at?

Aborting is pro-active killing. Killing through action.

'Killing' an infant, invalid or geriatric can be killing through inaction.

Is killing through action or inaction more commendable?

Should humans have a greater right to life than other animals? If not, why do we murder various parasites?

If a potential human must be kept alive, then why do we not avoid killing the various uni-cellular creatures, any of which could eventually evolve to become human (given a much, much longer timeframe)?

Answers to Bezman's questions, speaking *entirely* from my own point of view...


I am much more valuable than other living creatures. My family and friends also have elevated value. Beyond that... it depends. I keep a cat and feed it meat, rather than donating the value of that cat's food and other bills to feed people I have never met. Do I value that cat more than the lives of humans I've never met? Looking at my actions, I do, uncomfortable though that is for me to admit in public.

The bad thing about death is the curtailing of that person/creature's own experiences.

Killing through action and inaction... I'd rarely commend either, though there is one person I'd cheerfully kill through action if I felt I could get away with it (and could find the person concerned - they may be dead already). My view is that it's up to the individual; what I find commendable you may find repugnant, and vice versa.

Nobody has rights. The universe does not respect rights that we assign ourselves; giving people a "right to life" does not prevent meteor strikes or heart attacks. Asking whether humans have "more" rights is, to me, meaningless.


translucy & Chris F.: I somehow missed your comments yesterday; don't know how that happened. :)

translucy: many of the European nations show a remarkable willingness to compromise on the tough issues; I find it admirable.

Chris F.: part of what we are exploring in this "Ethics campaign" is the point you raise here: that we must be careful not to force our beliefs onto other people; the Ethics of Metaphysics post deals with this (I don't know if you are a regular or not - if this is your first time commenting, thanks for joining in!)

"It seems to me that many who oppose abortion refuse to discuss alternatives that work, most especially contraception and education. In fact, the people who fight vehemently against all three are the ones I notice the most."

Mostly, people with pro-life metaphysics still hope to convince other people of their position. It is this, to some extent, that I want to argue against - but at the same time, I respect people's right to oppose abortion in reasonable ways.

In the case of Catholic Christians, the anti-contraception position is handed to them, and I respect their right to hold this view. But I do not understand why Protestant Christians would hold suit behind this: why copy the Catholic position on contraception when you have the freedom to derive your own? There's no solid Biblical reason to oppose contraception (the story of Onan, generally the only thing cited, is about Leverite marriage). I am still waiting for some kind of explanation.

You reiterate another of my points nicely here, which is inflammatory rhetoric has the opposite of the desired effect - it entrenches people against the position that is being defended. It is difficult for people to grasp this; when something horrifies an individual they expect that expressing this horror to other people will be persuasive - it is, but not in the way it is intended! This is difficult for people to grasp, and it happens with many topics (if you look into the declawing of cats you will see the same problem - inflammatory accounts of the horrors involved, that push people into reactionary positions rather than actually persuading them).

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here - there are many other people here who share your viewpoint in many ways.

Bezman: I will get to animal rights - this is a parallel issue in many respects. The situation is very similar, except that the beliefs involved are political and not religious (generally) - but it's the same situation of conflict between competing metaphysics.

On the subject of "what is bad about death", it's important to bear in mind that pro-life metaphysics are about the essential sanctity of human (and generally only human) life. I believe it is intensely valuable that we have people who are willing to defend this so vociferously, as it maintains the value of human life in society - but there are problems, and abortion is one of the big quagmires.

Finally, your tangent:

"If a potential human must be kept alive, then why do we not avoid killing the various uni-cellular creatures, any of which could eventually evolve to become human (given a much, much longer timeframe)?"

The unicellular creatures will never become human. It is possible - however unlikely - that their descendants might become human-like, but vanishingly improbable and most certainly tangential to this debate!

Thanks for chiming in!

Peter: "Nobody has rights. The universe does not respect rights that we assign ourselves"

These sentences appear to contradict. I presume you mean something like this: "Nobody has absolute rights, the universe does not respect rights that we assign ourselves"; because surely if we assign ourselves rights, we have rights! What more would be needed?

As for your cat, why feel guilty for caring more about a member of your family than a stranger? You are by no means the only person to have non-humans in your family, neither is your position on this issue as extreme as many others.


Thanks for the comments everyone!

I think I need to unpack my comment on rights somewhat :-).

The common use of the term "right" today, at least in the UK, appears to be at odds with reality. "I have a right to a 10% salary increase", for example, is at best tenuous and at worst risible. The term "right" is used merely to strengthen an "I want" sentence.

More generally, rights can only be asserted within a particular social and legal context; and they give the asserter little practical help at the day-to-day level. A "right to life", even one enshrined in law, is of little use to someone who has been killed by another person belonging to the same society, whether deliberately or accidentally.

It's the common use of the term "right" that I'm rebelling against - the one that assumes a universal and (generally) unbalanced benefit for the asserter. I accept that there are certain principles that the lawmakers in a particular society could choose to enshrine in law at a particular time, and these might be called "rights". However, that merely affects applicable laws, which has a minor day-to-day effect on what *actually* happens at the individual level.

Peter: thanks for your explanation here; I appreciate that people talk about having rights to things where no formal agreement exists. When I talk about "rights", I am talking about legally agreed rights and/or internationally agreed human rights.

I wonder if we've had all the discussion we'll have on this topic now... Ah well, it may yet come up again. :)

life=good, death=bad, rights to live, bla bla bla.

It all sounds very very interesting true, but truly the presumptions underlying this discussion are so utterly confused. You people have reduced everything to abstracts.

Maybe you shouldnt yet attack each others ethics, maybe you should first get together and discuss your presumptions.

Because you are all arguing, yet all using a totally different set of rules to reflect the discussion upon.

This is far too one-sided. In the beginning, the author shows both sides of the controversy, but once religion is introduced, the article becomes very one-sided.

Life is life, and it is not to be thought differently. A one celled organism is considered alive; and a one celled child is not? While I see the vast difference between the two, it proves that life is life, and it should not be second guessed.

Your morals may permit you to end a life, no matter how small, but mine do not.

P.S. - I am a teenager, and although the sexual desire is there, it is not impossible to control. But if I ever did give in to it, though (and I do not plan on it until secure in marriage), I would consider the consequences. More people should do that, rather than get pregnant, and kill at convenience.

Adding something: I DO have compassion for the woman. But it WAS her choice to have sex in the first place. Don't do it if you're not prepared for the consequences.

Sara: thank you for your comment! I'll make you a deal, if you don't call me "the author", I won't call you "the commenter"... :)

Okay, so you think this is one sided... What is going on in this piece is a genuine attempt to weave together two very contrasting metaphysical positions, which are usually called "pro-life" and "pro-choice" but I believe would be better called "pro-foetus" and "pro-mother".

My experience of this piece is that people see themselves reflected in it - exclusive humanists see too much religious language, pro-lifers see too much godless rhetoric. That's a quality of the issue itself, and I feel I should be given some latitude in this regard - it's not easy to walk between these two camps.

For the record, you should know I come from a religious background, albeit a more diverse background than many!

"Life is life, and it is not to be thought differently. A one celled organism is considered alive; and a one celled child is not?"

A one celled organism and a one celled child are both alive. As is a plant, a yeast cell, and a cow. You eat living things - if you did not, you would die, so don't try and claim that you do not take life - for every animal, the act of living is to take life!

"Your morals may permit you to end a life, no matter how small, but mine do not."

You are grossly mistaken. You end lives all the time, or are at least complicit with people who do - everything you eat was once alive (excepting, perhaps, chewing gum which is essentially industrial glue). Now I'm not saying you should feel bad for eating flour from wheat, but please don't try and deny that the wheat was a living thing.

"More people should do that, rather than get pregnant, and kill at convenience."

This characterises your prejudice on this matter. You think that everyone who has an abortion is a reckless purveyor of casual sex who just thinks, 'oh, I'll just get an abortion'? Check your facts here.

While I'll admit there are people who have this attitude, which like you I find abhorrent, a large number of women who have abortions (and this information comes from a nurse who works in this context) are people who have already had several children and can't handle any more. In this regard, contraception and/or reversible sterilisation would seem to be in order - yet many women do not consider such operations because they fear it would make them less of a woman, or in the case of a vasectomy, less of a man. There is a major social issue to be addressed here with direct relevance for the issue of abortion.

And let's not forget that some women are raped and become pregnant. Your viewpoint seems to consider that everyone who becomes pregnant has reached this state of their own volition - in this, I'm afraid you are somewhat naive. In the case of rape it was categorically *not* the woman's choice to have sex in the first place. Are you really going to say, for instance, that a 13 year old girl who has become pregnant after being raped by her father has no choice but to carry the foetus to term?

This was my first attempt to strike some middle ground between the contrasting metaphysical positions on abortion, and although it was not wholly successful I still think it was a promising start. I will be posting again on abortion next year - I encourage you to join the discussions then.

Thanks for sharing your comment, Sara! Abortion is an emotional subject, and I appreciate it when people try to share their views upon it.

Hi, and thank you for responding to my comment.

I must point out that I disagree with your idea of "pro fetus" and "pro mother." While I am for preserving the life of the fetus, I do consider the mother's feelings and rights, but I do not think that those rights include ending a life.

Addressing your first point, on the subject of life and how we end lives all the time - I think you are taking me too seriously when I say that my morals do not permit me to end a life. If you want to consider an unborn baby to have the value of a yeast cell, well then yes, I do end lives all the time. But the difference between the value of a cell that will become a human and a cell that will become bread is very very great, and when I say that my morals do not permit me to end a life, I mean a human life.

Also, thank you for pointing out my prejudice. I was wrong in assuming that everyone that commits an abortion is a "reckless purveyor of casual sex." You are correct: there are hard working women out there with children and a husband that are not prepared to have another child, but still continue to have sex, and do not plan on receiving surgery to prevent pregnancy. But because you cannot afford it or you do not want to feel less of a man or woman by getting surgery does not give anyone an excuse for abortion. In these cases, adoption should be considered. And if you are against an adoption, then use birth control pills. Abortion should not be the way out.

The case of rape is the thing that I think about often when considering the topic of abortion, and the pro-life and pro-choice arguments. I myself, as said before, am a teenager, and I can hardly imagine the pain, stress, and burden a child resulting from rape could be. Rape is terrible, and it can change a girl's entire life, especially if it results in pregnancy. Abortion is definitely the easiest way out. But I still don't consider that any reason to commit an abortion. I know a girl who was raped at the age of 16, and she became pregnant. And while she could have had an abortion, she had the baby and put it up for adoption.

I am unsure of how you feel on the subject of adoption, but in my opinion, while it may not be the easiest way out, it is the best way out.

Sara: thank you for coming back to continue our discussions! You have clarified your position here quite nicely: you consider everything from a fertilised ovum onwards to be a human life, and therefore are not willing to consider scenarios involving termination. This is a fairly conventional pro-life/pro-foetus position.

(I've taken the liberty in this reply of assuming you are a theist - I apologise if this is in error.)

I know you say you do take the mother into account, but since you allow for termination under no circumstances I feel you do not allow for the mother very well at all, and certainly you greatly favour the rights of the foetus over the rights of the mother. Hence I feel "pro-foetus" is a good descriptor of your ethical stance on abortion.

You even advocate that a victim of rape should carry the foetus to term, give birth to the child born of rape (presumably even if inbred) and then give the child away. I find the idea of this being the only choice available to a pregnant rape survivor quite appalling. Any abusive husband or lover who decides he wants a child just has to rape a woman and he gets his wish. How abominable in my eyes!

However, what you don't take into account is that not everyone sees it the way you do. Many people do not believe that the foetus qualifies as a human life until it is more developed - a belief, I might add, which helps alleviate the pain of those who have suffered a miscarriage (about a quarter of pregnancies). A foetus is not guaranteed to become a child... you want to leave it to God (or chance, if I'm mistaken and you are not a theist) to resolve this matter - but remember that God gave us all free will.

If a mother decides to terminate a foetus, surely that is between the mother and God? And since Jesus (further assuming you are a Christian) forgives us all for our sins, why would he not forgive a mother for an abortion, even assuming that Jesus and God share your view on the foetus, which is by no means a given.

The problem with your stance isn't that it is unethical when it is constrained to your own life - it undoubtedly forms a valid ethic for you - but you want to force your ethical values and the metaphysical beliefs they are based upon onto other people. Why should you be able to force your beliefs upon other people? Are you so sure your beliefs are the only correct ones that you feel you have the authority to override other people's free will? That to me is going against God in the most atrocious fashion.

If you can *persuade* other people of the merit of your beliefs, all well and good, but I see no reason for you to impose your beliefs on other people. How would you feel if other people imposed their beliefs upon you, especially on such an important issue? How do you think God would feel about you denying the free will he has given to us all?

Modern democratic society enshrines the value of freedom of belief as one of its most cherished values. This applies on this issue as much as any other.

I am in favour of adoption, but I'm not in favour of women being co-opted against their will as surrogates. This seems to me an arrangement guaranteed to result in abusive situations. Adoption is a choice - the mother must choose it. It can't be her only option. If pro-foetus individuals want to invest their time encouraging adoption instead of demonising abortion, I feel this would meet their goals better - but first they must respect the free will of other people. Are you willing to do that?

Now, alas, I'm about to go on hiatus for a month so I'm afraid our conversation will be interrupted. However, I intend to post again on the ethics of abortion next year. I do not know what I will say yet, but undoubtedly I will be trying once again to find some middle ground between two very polar positions. Perhaps we can continue our discussions then?

Best wishes!

Just to bung another couple of thought points in here...

What about the rights of a man who is raped for his sperm? I know it is a relatively rare event, but should this man be given rights over the unborn child (also recently heard in news of a couple who had sperm frozen for the future, who then split up, but the woman was still able to get access to the man's sperm). It's a sticky wicket.

And also the ability to use birth control pills is not available to all. They often cause issues with blood pressure and can also be problematic in conjunction with other medication. Not to mention the long-term hormonal issues using hormonal medication can cause. This isn't a reason to ignore the dangers, but it is another assumed avenue that is not always available.

There are no definitive, or easy answers to this problem, but I think it is important that the mother be given the rights over her own body, with or without an unborn baby inside it, just as a man would.

Men, in my opinion, are responsible for almost all abortions. You can not abort if you are not pregnant and a female is unlikely to get that way if the male uses a condom. For me to have unprotected sex with any female that I am not absolutely positive wants to have my child is a No No.

Neil: in the case of theft of sperm (which seems to be more common than rape for sperm as far as I can tell), the man has no rights whatsoever under the current law. This is because the legal system will not issue a court-ordered abortion - and with understandable just cause. The system as it stands grants control over a woman's body to the woman alone. I believe this is the only just course of action, but that doesn't mean that the abortion debate is in any way resolved. I will pick this up next year as I have a new perspective to share on the issue.

HarOLD Quillin: Why should the man hold sole responsibility for consensual unprotected sex? This seems quite arbitrary. If a woman invites unprotected sex, say, with her husband (remembering that a large number of abortions are parents who already have several children) why is she relieved of all responsibility?

And welcome to the blog! Odd choice of first post to comment upon, but all perspectives are welcome here. :)

Any arguments aside, I bet that pro-life or pro-choice your all very glad indeed that your mum did not abort YOU.....I know I am :-)

Donna: I am very glad that I exist, but in terms of being thankful for this I would be more inclined to give thanks to my parents for falling in love and deciding to raise a family than for something they didn't do.

You wouldn't suggest I should be thankful that my mother didn't strangle me as an infant, or that my father wasn't abducted by aliens, or that a nuclear reactor didn't go off and obliterate my entire family... There's an infinite number of things that could have prevented me from being here today, and I don't see any reason to single out termination of pregnancy above all the others.

Incidentally, a later piece entitled Abortion vs Suicide takes this discussion in another direction. If this topic interests you, you might want to check that out.

Thanks for sharing your views!

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