Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Today's Essay Topic: Abortion and Nuance
So, John Kerry announced that he believes abortion is, in fact, murder. His words: I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception...I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.

Yes, we do have separation of Church and State, and I thank God every day that we are afforded such freedoms in this great nation. Here's the problem, though, John: murder is different. I'm not going to defend my views of abortion here (for those who don't know, I also believe that life begins at conception, or at the very least we don't know when it begins, and I'm not willing to take the risk that abortion might be murder. Therefore, I think we should stop it.), but I'll deal exclusively with the Senator's.

If you believe that abortion ends an existing life, then you believe abortion is murder. If you then campaign on a woman's right to have an abortion, then you are campaigning on a woman's right to commit murder. It's that simple. So, one of two things becomes possible. Either: Kerry doesn't actually believe that life begins at conception, and he's just saying it to try and win some votes on the right, OR: Kerry thinks murder should be legalized. OK, he probably doesn't think murder is alright, but at the very least he has no real concern for human life. Either way, this isn't so much a nuanced view on abortion, as it is total (pardon my French) bullshit.

Maybe someone can explain it to me, but murder isn't about separation between Church and State. If you truly believe life begins at conception, intuitively meaning you believe abortion to be murder, fighting it isn't about imposing your views on others, it's about stopping others from committing a wrong.

Oh, and by the way, John, if you're not supposed to impose your views on others, then your reasons for taking my money to help the poor the ways you want instead of letting me do it my way had better have nothing to do with a religiously based desire to help the less-fortunate. If it does, then the fact that you don't want to use your religious beliefs to physically save lives, but you do use them to save lives in a less-clear manner (like welfare), disgusts me.

I rambled a bit, but if I didn't make my point that this "life begins at conception but a woman has a right to choose just the same" position is untenable, or if you just don't agree, post a comment and maybe we can clear up the disparity.


MN Politics Guru said...

Well, unless you are a vegetarian, you "murder" animals all the time for food. The question isn't whether abortion ends a life; it obviously does. The question is whether that life has any rights or protection under the law. An embryo in early stages of development, being non-sentient and non-independent, should not be afforded any rights.

Come on, call me a baby killer. I know you want to.

RFTR said...

All of that is entirely immaterial to what I said above.

Mike May said...

I think you're absolutely correct, and that was the first thought that came to my mind when I read the news that Kerry had announced that he believes life begins at conception. Although I am pro-life myself, I can at least sort of understand how a pro-choice person who believes life begins at birth can justify their position. If you've diluted your morals enough to say that a fetus isn't yet a living being, then I suppose it would be easy to give a green light to abortion.

But greater moral issues arise when you take the position that Kerry is taking, that life begins at conception, but that there is a grace period of sorts in which a person can, in a sense, return the product. The fact that Kerry now feels that life begins at conception doesn't warm me up to him in any way. In fact, quite the opposite. If he could take a firm position and stick with it, no matter how liberal it might be, I would at least respect him. This duplicitous pandering is just getting sickening with every new example.

Anonymous said...

Kerry didn't say abortion is murder.

One could legitimately distinguish between those ethical beliefs which every reasonable person in one's community agrees with and those concerning which there is reasoned disagreement. Concerning the former one might take an absolutist stand while taking a relativist stand on the latter.

Instance of the former: involuntary termination of the lives of innocent, healthy adults; instances of the latter: involuntary termination of the lives of murderers, or of fetuses.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many pro-choice catholics you know. Most of my friends (fellow parishiners) on the one hand, accept our religious teaching that life begins at conception but realize this is our religious view and that we do not have the right to push our religious views onto others who do not share it. If a person disagrees with my religious views they shouldn't be held to them. I therefore have the same view on abortion as does Senator Kerry. I believe life begins at conception but believe I do not have the right to impose that opinion onto others.

RFTR said...

But this is my point: if your religious view tells you that something is murder, doesn't your religion also tell you to oppose it? Doesn't it tell you to try and show people that it is murder, that it is killing of an innocent?

If you think capital punishment is illegal, that is just your opinion, but isn't it your job to oppose it politically?
If you believe eating animals is murder, that's just your opinion, but doesn't the same hold true?
Why is abortion different? Why is this the one religious view that can't dictate your political action?

And why does it matter what is your justification for believing something is murder? Shouldn't just the belief that something is murder mean that you should try to pass laws to prevent those murders?

Also, I'd appreciate it if anonymous posters would leave a name so I know who you are. If you're not willing to sign a name, I don't think you should be speaking.

Anonymous said...

Suggesting that life begins at conception is not the same as suggesting it is murder to terminate a pregnancy.

Life of course begins at conception - without conception, the whole issue of birth is moot. The legal question - which the concept of murder is all about - is at what point does a developing fetus attain the legal protections afforded us all as human beings. And the law has been clear in both suggesting an embryo is not "alive" and a fetus late in pregnancy is.

The area between the extreme poles on this is vast, but it is certainly feasible to believe that 1st trimester fetuses, while trending towards being independent, sentient and alive beings, are not there yet.

Given the broad range of opinions on where the cutoff is, it should be determined on an individual basis with medical consultation and broad legal boundaries. Late trimester abortions not only take issue with the moral imperative of the protection of life but are medically dangerous. But these are rarely done. The vast majority of abortions done are first trimester, where the fetus is wholly dependent on the mother's agency to survive and termination of the pregnancy is a relatively safe procedure.

That noted, if a mother firmly believes that life begins at conception and that terminating a pregnancy is murder, fine - that is her choice and her responsibility. Most women who have abortions are cognizant of the gravity of their decision - any woman who treats this as a cavalier act should be encouraged to think about their actions and their consequences more deeply.

But if in weighing the moral, social, psychological and economic benefits and costs a woman decides that motherhood is not presently for her, she should have the option early on in the process to correct the situation. Having a child is the most profound action you can take - it is a commitment for life. If a pregnant mother can't fathom how she'll deal with the first 60 days of motherhood, much less the next 60 years, she'll likely be a horrible mother and the quality of that child's life will suffer accordingly.

Quality of life is as important than the presence or absence of it - both at birth and death.

Anonymous said...

OK, since you're playing the logic game, let's play the logic game. To make this easy to understand, I'm going to put semantic terms needing definition in all caps. Take a little time to work this through for yourself: there's a couple key subtleties in it.

The two assertions given by Kerry are:
1. Kerry believes LIFE begins at conception.
2. Kerry believes voluntary abortion should be legal.
To this, we add the presumed background belief:
3. Kerry believes MURDER should not be legal.

You assert that these three assertions produce a contradiction.

The logical spine of your argument is:
4. If X believes LIFE begins at conception, then X believes voluntary abortion is ENDING-A-LIFE.
5. If X believes voluntary abortion is ENDING-A-LIFE , then X believes voluntary abortion is MURDER.
6. If X believes voluntary abortion should be legal, then X believes MURDER should be legal.
Thus, producing a contradiction.

The obvious point of weakness in this argument is statement 5. Now, there's a lot of wiggle-room here given that we've got two ill-defined terms. Let's try defining them fairly generously and see what happens:

Generous definitions for ENDING-A-LIFE and MURDER (leaving out extenuating circumstances and legal sanction):
7. If and only if A is a LIFE and A stops being a LIFE, then ENDING-A-LIFE occurs for A.
8. If and only if A is a LIFE and B VOLUNTARILY causes ENDING-A-LIFE for A, then B commits MURDER against A.

Now here's the difficult bit, where you went wrong. The rub here is the clause "B VOLUNTARILY causes ENDING-A-LIFE." Take the definition of VOLUNTARILY as:
9. If and only if Q believes action R will cause S and Q executes action R, then Q VOLUNTARILY causes S.

Now, let us posit the existence of a woman W who LEGITIMATELY believes that LIFE begins in the second trimester and has an abortion in her first trimester, destroying her fetus F. Then because W does not believe F is a LIFE, W does not believe that having and abortion causes ENDING-A-LIFE. Thus W does not VOLUNTARILY cause ENDING-A-LIFE for F. Thus W does not commit MURDER.

Kerry's statement: "I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist." may then be read an assertion:
10. Kerry believes that a woman W exists who LEGITIMATELY believes that LIFE begins later than she aborts.

This is the point at which the pro-choice and pro-life arguments diverge: is it possible for a woman to exist who LEGITIMATELY believes that LIFE begins later than she aborts? Pro-life asserts that this is not possible. Pro-choice typically points to the example of an abortion before "quickening", which a significant fraction of the population believes is the onset of LIFE.

My question to you: do you agree or disagree with Kerry on assertion 10?

ctdon1 said...

As a pro-choice catholic, I take every opportunity to personally discourage those I know from having an abortion, but I do not believe the government has a right to push my religious views.

RFTR said...

I like all of that logic. And I disagree with Kerry on 10.

But I believe that because Kerry believes the rest, he also disagrees with 10. If he believes she is ending a life, then he must also believe she is committing murder.

That's how I see it as untenable.

Anonymous said...

OK, now we're getting somewhere.

You, Brian, believe that there is no woman who LEGITIMATELY believes that life begins in the second trimester. That's a pretty strong statement. Are you really clear on the implications of that assertion?

Consider, for example, my own raving leftist-feminist wife. Is she not allowed to believe that life begins in the second trimester? Why not? What is the logical basis for that?

RFTR said...

She's allowed to believe whatever she wants. And yes, I think many women do believe that.

My point is (man, I say that a lot) that if I truly believe what I believe is right, then what she believes doesn't matter. Because, from my perspective, if I allow the government to continue allowing abortions, then I am a party to murder. I may not succeed, but that makes it my responsibility to do everything I possibly can to end abortion.

Also, I may have disagreed with the wrong point. It's late, and I didn't read your logic all that closely. I'll scan it again tomorrow and reassess if I have time.

Finally, do you mind adding a name to your posts? I don't know who you are, and I don't really like anonymous posting, as I've said before. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Like I said before, it's a tricky logical point, and a very easy one to get wrong because it involves two layers of belief assertions. The key problem is that intuitively we want to evaluate the truth-value of a MURDER assertion from our own perspective, but the inclusion of VOLUNTARILY in the definition of MURDER requires evaluation from the perspective of the person causing ENDING-A-LIFE.

This is why the question of whether one can LEGITIMATELY hold the belief that LIFE begins other than at conception is so important. If a woman cannot LEGITIMATELY hold that belief, then in the case in which she claims to hold that belief, her judgement is invalidated and an alternate judgement of the truth value must be substituted for her own.

Now, there's an interesting and entirely separate problem you raise: what action you should take, given that you believe both "abortion is MURDER" and "a woman W exists who LEGITIMATELY believes that LIFE begins later than she aborts", and that you are motivated to try to address this problem:

There are basically three ways to resolve this dilemma:
A. Decide that abortion is not MURDER
B. Decide that one cannot LEGITIMATELY believe that LIFE begins later than one aborts
C. No unplanned or dangerous pregnancies exist

The often-cited pro-choice position, "safe, simple, and rare" is a standard liberal defense-in-depth implementation of approach C:
1. Informed decision-making on whether to engage in sexual activity
2. Universal easy access to effective contraception
3. Informed decision-making on what contraceptive measures to use
4. Emergency contraception to prevent unwanted conception in case of contraceptive failure
5. Universal easy access to the woman's choice of good pre-natal care or safe voluntary first-trimester abortion
6. Universal easy access to medically necessary late-term abortion
7. Universal easy access to medically necessary premature delivery
8. Universal easy access to the woman's choice of good post-natal care or adoption services

The first four steps attempt to prevent the existence of unplanned pregnancies, and the latter four steps attempt to prevent the existence of dangerous pregnancies. The one controversial point is the option of voluntary first-trimester abortion in step 5. At this point, an anti-abortion pro-choice person who believes abortion is MURDER should present positive benefits intended to persuade the woman to choose good pre-natal care.


Tanstaafl said...

While nuanced, Kerry's stated beliefs are not contradictory in and of themselves. Just because life begins at conception, doesn't mean that ending that life is murder. The commenter who mentioned vegetarianism up above was onto something. The question should be "what is murder?"

Tossing all of the "voluntary" chatter aside, Murder in its most elemental form could be defined as ending a life. But generally we don't consider slaughtering cattle murder (unless you're from PETA, in which case you should be in Pampalona with no shirt on, not reading this post). So we could refine our definition to ending HUMAN life. But again, this may be too broad. People could say that sperm and eggs are separately human life, and I doubt you would claim that every time either is disposed of, the disposer is committing murder. So narrow it down a little more to ending the life of a PERSON. Now you get into defining when PERSONHOOD begins, which Kerry did not do.

But personhood alone may not be enough to guarantee a right to life either. For instance, many believe that a cop-killer has forfeited that right. A soldier on the battle-field has suspended his right in order fight for a cause or country.

As for "I can't take my Catholic belief... and legislate it on" others, that's a throw-away phrase. "Thou shalt not kill", which is the basis for prohibiting homicide in the first place is a Judeo-Christian ethic. There have been societies where killing was a form of problem solving, and ours chose to follow a set of religious beliefs that did not abide by that. We don't let people like David Koresh abuse children just because his religion condones his behavior.

But these prohibitions can, and should be formed on a rights-based foundation. We prohibit murder because the potential victim has a right to life. We prohibit child abuse because the child has a right to be free from molestation.

The point in a embryo/fetus/baby's development at which we no longer allow its termination could also be justified on a rights-based foundation. We just need to answer the question, when does that developing human life become a person, and then get a protectable right to life?

Unfortunately, that brings us back to square one. We're back into the same debate. The problem is, a debate should have a potential reasoned outcome. This one can't because its core argument relies on personal beliefs, which are deeply held and often regiously motivated.

As such, it's a stupid debate in which to engage. The chance of changing someone's mind is remote, so you only anger the opposing party by trying.

As for pushing laws to oppose abortion, that's also a futile effort. I strongly oppose modifying the Constitution to outlaw abortion. I think it would be an enormous slap a federalism and would open the gates to all sorts of moral amending that could radically hurt our society. Right now Supreme Court precedent makes individual laws banning it unconstitutional. So you're left with appoiting judges who would overturn Roe and Casey. But that, I believe is a mistake as well. Precedent is necessary in order for people to be able to accurately guess what will be allowed and what will not. If you start throwing it aside without a new reason to do so, you could rip the whole structure apart.

Personally, I think this debate should be left alone, with the status-quo intact. And I say that as someone who beliefs that a fetus is a person, worthy of protecting its right to life. But I also believe that many of you will ALWAYS disagree with me, and until we get more scientific or religious evidence to prove one of us right, this discussion will only poison anything else we try to achieve together.

Anonymous said...

James, I like what you wrote, and there's one important point which I'd like to refine. You note that:

> these prohibitions can, and should be formed on a rights-based foundation.

I generally agree. However, the real societal decision-making comes not in what rights individuals possess, but in how contradictory rights are balanced against one another in different situations.

In that light, for example, a thief is locked away not because he has forfeited his right to freedom, but because society has judged that indulging his right to freedom is too likely to curtail the rights to property of potential victims.