Academics Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva have been getting headlines (and, horribly, death threats) for publishing a paper arguing that infanticide is morally identical to abortion and so should be allowed.
I read about the paper via Jack at Ethics Alarms, who writes “it is actually a logical, if disturbing, extension of other pro-abortion arguments.” Jack’s right, to some degree — but the argument also shares important features with pro-life arguments, most glaringly in the belief that there is no difference between a fetus and a born child.
American ethicist Peter Singer made himself both famous and infamous several years ago by pointing out that the distinction between late-term abortions and “after birth” killings was artificial. He’s right.
I call Jack’s argument the “woman? what woman?” argument, because it only makes sense if we have accidentally overlooked the fact that women exist. The most obvious difference between a late-term abortion and infanticide is that a fetus is inside a woman’s body, and an infant isn’t. You can believe that women are morally relevant creatures whose rights to control their own bodies matters; or you can believe that abortion and infanticide are completely identical, with no relevant differences at all. But you can’t believe both, because the two positions are completely contradictory.1
As for Giubilini and Minerva’s argument, it seems to me they don’t actually make their case. Here’s the crux of their argument:
Our point here is that, although it is hard to exactly determine when a subject starts or ceases to be a ‘person’, a necessary condition for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X. There are many ways in which an individual can be harmed, and not all of them require that she values or is even aware of what she is deprived of. A person might be ‘harmed’ when someone steals from her the winning lottery ticket even if she will never find out that her ticket was the winning one. Or a person might be ‘harmed’ if something were done to her at the stage of fetus which affects for the worse her quality of life as a person (eg, her mother took drugs during pregnancy), even if she is not aware of it. However, in such cases we are talking about a person who is at least in the condition to value the different situation she would have found herself in if she had not been harmed. And such a condition depends on the level of her mental development,6 which in turn determines whether or not she is a ‘person’.
Those who are only capable of experiencing pain and pleasure (like perhaps fetuses and certainly newborns) have a right not to be inflicted pain. If, in addition to experiencing pain and pleasure, an individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth.
And… that’s it. They say “hardly can a newborn be said to have aims,” but they don’t give any arguments to support that claim. How do they know what a newborn thinks? Why couldn’t a newborn be said to have aims in the “first few days or few weeks,” such as the aim of being fed?
“Alas” readers with long memories might say that Giubilini and Minerva’s argument is similar to my own argument — and they’d be right. I agree with them that “a necessary condition for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.”
The difference is, I actually give a reason for not thinking that a fetus before 28 weeks is capable of being a person:
So when does personhood begin? I don’t know. But I know that it can’t possibly happen before the fetus has a fully functioning cerebral cortex, capable of supporting thought.
In particular, it’s not possible for there to be any thought or awareness before the emergence of pyramidal cell dendritic spines on neurons, which happens relatively abruptly at about the 28th week. Pre-dendritic spines, the cerebral cortex might as well be a pile of gray slush, in terms of how well it can actually function.
Once the dendritic spines are in place, does the fetus become a person that instant? I doubt it. I think a working cerebral cortex is a necessary condition of personhood (in human beings, anyhow – maybe Vulcans are different), but I don’t think it’s sufficient. Once a fetus has a fully working cerebral cortex, to some extent that’s like having a blank hard drive; the hardware is all in place, but the data is still to come.
Nonetheless, as far as abortion is concerned, I find the scientific facts reassuring. Personhood, as I understand it, can’t even begin to exist until at least the 28th week – and probably doesn’t exist in any meaningful form until well after that point. But virtually all abortions – even those abortions usually referred to as “late term” abortions – take place well before the 28th week of pregnancy.
It seems fair to me to say that having some self-conception is a minimum requirement of personhood; and furthermore, it seems fair to say that having a functioning cerebral cortex is a minimum requirement of having any self-conceptions;2 and, finally, it seems fair to say that having active dendritic spines is a minimum requirement without which cerebral cortexes3 do not function.
But I don’t understand where Giubilini and Minerva’s argument comes from. What is the dividing line between a newborn and a three-week old baby, in their view? What specific differences make the difference, and why? Until they spell that out, as far as I’m concerned, they simply haven’t made an argument.
It’s ironic that both the (extremely rare) pro-infanticide position and the “pro-life” position share the same moral blindness. Both positions don’t seem to think that it matters that a fetus is inside a woman’s body; and both positions ignore the difference between having and not having higher brain functions.
- It’s possible, at least in theory, to understand that women exist and their rights matter, and to nonetheless conclude that on balance a pregnant woman’s rights are outweighed by the rights of a late-term fetus. I might hold that view myself, if we were talking about the case of a woman choosing an unnecessary abortion shortly before she would have given birth anyway — a case that I suspect has never happened in real life, but which seems to happen frequently in the pro-life imagination. However, the “we must balance the rights” viewpoint is not identical to the claim that to see a distinction at all is artificial. [↩]
- At least, in humans it is. It would be easy to imagine some sci-fi alien whose brain functions in a different way anatomically. [↩]
- Corti? [↩]
When I first heard about this, I assumed that the paper was intended as a satire in the style of “a modest proposal”, essentially making an anti-choice argument by taking a “pro-choice” view and presenting it as morally defensible, in an attempt to show how ridiculous that would be (that fact that the view is not actually a pro-choice view but a strawman based on what the pro-life crowd thinks the pro-choice view notwithstanding). The outrage, I thought, was just the result of people not actually getting the irony.
However, if that is the case than the authors seem to be insisting on keeping the act longer than it’s useful. They could have said “oh no, we were just trying to show how horrid pro-choice arguments are” and immediately turned around many of their critics. So, I guess I now take them at their word that they were just performing a thought experiment and wanted it to be part of the general discourse.
Addendum: (I should admit, though, that I have not been following this controversy carefully, I’ve just happened across it a couple of times in the papers, and now Amp’s post).
For me, the beginning of a person is definable as, ab initio, when it is able to exist on its own. If it requires the involuntary actions of another person to exist (such as providing oxygenated blood, and nutrients, through the uterine-fetal connections), then it isn’t a person yet. If it doesn’t, it is. That puts it, possibly, around that same point you’re suggesting – 28 weeks or so, in the most extreme cases (really, let’s say 30-32 minimum, for premature birth and potential long-term viability).
Note that someone losing the ability to breathe on their own isn’t in this position: they are provided the means of life through mechanical assistance, not enslaving another person to breathe for them. Ditto kidney failure and dialysis, organ transplants, et c. – all require mechanical and/or voluntary assistance.
As long as a fetus is vitally dependent on a person with a uterus to provide it the means of life, then it isn’t a person yet. When it can “leave home”, so to speak, it is.
This position was first articulated to me by a Conservative rabbi, who said he’d learned it from a teacher at a yeshiva. It was one of the major elements in making me happy to be converting from atheist to Jew (though I never finished the process): an outlook that proceeds logically from transparent/visible precepts.
As you know, I’m in the “abortion at any time” camp, but nonetheless I think they’re more linked than it seems.
From an ethical perspective, the woman’s control over the fetus arguably extends only to the “I don’t want to carry it” aspect, not the “…and I want to control whether or not it survives the extraction” aspect.
When you say
That’s not, IMO, the determinative question, or even an especially relevant one. Even if it has higher brain functions, you’re not obligated to take care of it. You should be able to stop a pregnancy if you want to, late term. And of course, IMO you should also be able to stop a pregnancy early term!
Even if it DOESN’T have higher brain functions, however, that doesn’t really have much to do with the question of whether a woman’s moral rights obviously extend to the decision to terminate, rather than extract it alive if possible.
So although I think the conclusion is ridiculous, from an analysis perspective I agree that it shares some very very limited moral overlap with discussions of infanticide: both stem from the “I don’t want this thing to exist at all” perspective, and not just the “I don’t want personal responsibility for this thing” perspective.
I agree with #3 Caitie Cat that practical personhood requires physical separation from and independence from another person’s body – with the exception of dicephalic (two heads/brains) conjoined (“Siamese”) twins, in which non-brain physiologic processes are shared.
As I understand it, majority Orthodox Jewish rabbinical opinion holds that when a late-term gestation significantly threatens the pregnant woman’s health, the duty is to preserve the woman’s life at the expense of the fetus, and the woman should be counseled to preserve herself.
I think that the equation of the achievement of sufficient neuronal connections and presumed dawn of consciousness at ~28 weeks with the beginning of personhood is perfectly compatible with Christian doctrine. If one looks at the Incarnation (God made flesh) and resurrection as central features of Christian doctrine, body and soul are necessarily indivisible. There is something rather dualistic about assigning soul and consciousness to a fertilized egg.
That puts it, possibly, around that same point you’re suggesting – 28 weeks or so, in the most extreme cases (really, let’s say 30-32 minimum, for premature birth and potential long-term viability).
I’m not totally sure what distinction you’re making here, but at 28 weeks the chance of survival outside the womb is quite good. There is a significantly increased risk of various medical problems, compared to a term baby, but you’ll probably live and not as a vegetable.
Fair enough, chingona; call it 28 weeks flat, then, I think the point stands: most fetuses will not be really viable at that age, and if they are, they tend to be very difficult situations, often with serious underformation of important structures. And that assumes (not necessarily wisely, in the US) that the mother is in a situation to be able to afford that level of care for an infant – whereas if she’s working but very low income, she may well have no form of health insurance at all in the US.
Say 30 weeks for a generally-acceptable viability outside? Point is, there are reasonable, science-based criteria which could be used to determine that point, and that they match fairly closely with Amp’s suggestion of cortical topography. And they have frak-all to do with “as soon as Dad came”, as the song had it.
“a necessary condition for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.”
A couple of questions:
1) Do you think that it is a sufficient condition as well?
2) Do you mean the word “right” as in the kind of rights defended by the U.S. Constitution, wherein what is secured is the ability of the person to gain their object without active interference from the government or persons? Or are you referring to an entitlement, wherein the person who is unable to obtain their object using their own resources can use the government to secure the means to obtain their object by depriving others of their resources?
I asked you to clarify what you meant. I didn’t say “every sperm is sacred.” That most babies born at 28 weeks will survive doesn’t have to dictate your position on late-term abortion. It doesn’t dictate mine, though it influences it. Like amp said, there’s a woman involved too. I just don’t think it’s accurate to say that 30 or 32 weeks is the *minimum* for viability, and I think it’s worth being accurate.
So let’s say the child is born, and grows. She is a very troubled child. Drugs, crimes, assaults on their parents, etc. Her parents grow to hate her. About the age of 16 she contracts a disease that gradually destroys her ability to breathe. Off she goes to the hospital, where she is put on these machines. Her parents can well afford to pay for her care. But then the revolting thing happens – they refuse. “Let her die.”
The State will compel them to pay for her care. As I personally think it should. But it seems to me that the very definition of enslavement is to require person A to work for person B’s benefit against their will. So if your distinction here is that a life can be terminated if you have to enslave someone else to have it preserved, aren’t these people morally justified in abandoning their child to death?
When a baby is born it is vitally dependent on it’s parents – or some other interested party – to provide it with the means of life. An abandoned child will die in short order. So how does this criterion differentiate the pre-natal day fetus from the day-old infant?
RonF, do you have difficulty understanding the use of the word “voluntary”? Because it seems to me that if those parents have that feeling about their now-person, they have an option: they can put the now-person up for adoption. Hence, voluntary. I don’t see how this is too complex to follow?
Whereas there is no guarantee that a pregnant person is pregnant by choice, and that if that pregnant person does not want to be pregnant, and the fetus isn’t viable, then I don’t see that zie has the duty to continue providing life to a fetus against their will.
chingona, didn’t say YOU said it was about the old song; I mentioned it only as it was my motivation for posting at all, that I agree with Amp, and for this science-based reason. You’re the one picking nits about it.
In practical terms, they would quickly run through all their money and the child would become Medicaid eligible and the state would pay for the care.
Ron, when I quoted the bit about “a necessary condition for a subject to have a right to X is that she is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X,” I wasn’t thinking about their use of the word “right.”
I don’t think I’d choose to use that word myself, nowadays, since I’ve grown very skeptical of the idea of “rights” existing outside of law and society. Rather, I’d now say that a necessary condition for me to consider it morally wrong to take X from a subject is that the subject is harmed by a decision to deprive her of X.
I don’t think that’s a sufficient condition, just a necessary condition.
CC, for me, the personhood definition you suggest doesn’t work.
Okay, but suppose that Lex Luthor’s teenage daughter, Lena Luthor, has a lung disease. To keep his daughter alive, Lex kidnaps Jimmy Olsen and involuntarily hooks Jimmy up to Lena. Does Lena then cease to be a person? That intuitively seems wrong to me.
Fair enough, Amp; I’m willing to write a supervillain exception into it, if you think it’s a serious issue. Me, I reckon since that would already be extremely illegal for a bunch of other reasons, it doesn’t lead to a lot of productive discussion on abortion ethics, does it?
I’m “nit picking” because, like I said, I think it’s important to be accurate. Most fetuses *ARE* viable at 28 weeks. March of Dimes says 96 percent of them will survive. That’s my point. If you say abortion is okay at 28 weeks because most fetuses aren’t “really” viable, then your argument is pretty vulnerable to the person who says, “Well, my daughter was born at 26 weeks, and today she’s a happy, healthy 7-year-old.” (March of Dimes says 80 percent of 26-weekers will survive, though 25 percent will have “lasting serious disabilities.”)
I don’t think you make your argument stronger by downplaying survival rates or viability. I think any argument about late-term abortion just needs to deal with this reality.
Okay, that’s good, then, make it 28 weeks. The point, as I keep trying to say, is that there is very likely a point in development at which reasonable scientific consensus could be built, saying “at this point, most fetuses will be viable if the pregnant person is no longer to be pregnant.” You’re focusing on the exact week; I’m focusing on the principle. Since I’m not myself an OB/GYN, and going off my own experiences (my daughter was born at 32, and her daughter at 31) as a general guide, I offered a guess; had I known I was writing legislation to be implemented immediately without further study, I’m sure I’d have been more careful. I thought I was just commenting on a blog. :)
I’ll happily accept correction on the detail, but I think the principle is quite viable.
Here’s a good way of looking at it:
When you’re dealing with “survivable” feti, whatever term they are:
The product of an abortion is a dead fetus.
The product of a c-section is a live (for the moment) fetus.
Does the mother’s ability to choose between the two fetal outcomes stem from anything OTHER than the difference to the mother in experiencing a c section vs. a late term abortion?
Part of me thinks the answer is “no.” But then it becomes tricky: Does that mean that, if c-sections were safe enough and/or abortions risky enough, that the state could compel a c section instead of an abortion?
Don’t be silly. It won’t be viable for roughly another 26 weeks.
LOL, Grace, well-played. Well-played indeed.
I’m beginning to wonder if the whole “personhood” argument is completely off the track. Whether or not a fetus is a person is beside the point. Assuming that a fetus (or hell even a blastocyst or an embryo) is a person, access to abortion is still pretty much a fundamental human right.
It’s pretty firmly established that, barring punishment for crimes, no one has the rights to anyone else’s body. In the US we established this with the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, and at this point is pretty much widely affirmed throughout the civilized world.
So, even given that Ms. Blastocyst is a person, what gives her the right to live in a woman’s body? She no more has that right than a squatter has rights to my living room, or a radio thief to my car window. Requiring a woman to biologically support another person seems to me to be a gross violation of the 13th amendment, and in general the right of freedom of one’s person.
1. Fetuses at less than 28 weeks now have a very good chance of survival. If personhood “… can’t possibly happen before the fetus has a fully functioning cerebral cortex, capable of supporting thought.”, then what is a 25 or 26 gestational age preemie in the NICU?
2. re: supervillians While Lena Luthor wouldn’t stop being a person, Jimmy certainly doesn’t have an obligation to serve as a support system against his will. Likewise, you can’t compel parents to undergo medical procedures (organ donation, etc.) for the benefit of their children, even if the alternative is death.
The whole fetal personhood arguement strikes me as largely irrelevant, because in no situation other than pregnancy is there any push to make one person *required* to submit to medical procedures or the use of their body for another person’s benefit.
Since people have raised the question of abortion in Jewish law, I thought I’d link to two posts I wrote on that subject, Abortion in Jewish Law and Abortion in Jewish Law 2. I thought I’d also posted them here on Alas, but maybe I wrote them before I started posting here. Another post that people might find interesting: Fetal Personhood as Metaphorical Thinking. (Note: there were some errors of fact in how I discussed some things in the Catholic/Christian system of belief in the original version of the post. I think I corrected them in the version I am linking to here, but my memory is not clear.)
Thank you, Richard; that tallies well with the discussion I had with the rabbi. If I were ever going to take up a religion, that rabbi convinced me which one it would be. I was, at the same time, taking my first formal logic course ever, and loving it like a little fuzzy puppy with rollerskates and a tail that makes a heart and the puppy smells like cinnamon & brown sugar. And so when the rabbi came to the part of the conversion course which dealt with women’s status in his branch of Judaism (he was also very forthcoming and quite non-judgemental about the differences, as he saw them, between his branch and the other main ones, which also made my respect for him grow), and he laid out the argument for me so clearly, I was very, very impressed. It was absolutely sound, valid logic, from visible premise to inevitable conclusion, and it entranced me. Growing up atheist, I’d studied a bit of a few different religions, to see if they interested me, and none had, because I couldn’t make their beliefs make sense with one another.
Then I met the rabbi. What an amazing man. I wonder if he’s still around? He wasn’t young then, and it was 25 years ago.
Not that this has anything to do with anything. :)
“And… that’s it. They say “hardly can a newborn be said to have aims,” but they don’t give any arguments to support that claim. How do they know what a newborn thinks? Why couldn’t a newborn be said to have aims in the “first few days or few weeks,” such as the aim of being fed?”
Why couldn’t a fetus be said to have aims?
“Assuming that a fetus (or hell even a blastocyst or an embryo) is a person, access to abortion is still pretty much a fundamental human right.
It’s pretty firmly established that, barring punishment for crimes, no one has the rights to anyone else’s body.”
Your principle doesn’t require abortion. It requires that we allow the woman to remove the fetus from her body. That is the whole thing about viability. When the fetus can be supported outside the woman’s body, there is no reason for your principles to be able to dictate that she can demand a dead baby at the end of the procedure.
“I might hold that view myself, if we were talking about the case of a woman choosing an unnecessary abortion shortly before she would have given birth anyway — a case that I suspect has never happened in real life, but which seems to happen frequently in the pro-life imagination. ”
You must have forgotten about the Gosnell case. It shows that in at least 8 cases a single doctor killed fully viable babies just outside the womb, and in dozens and dozens of cases he killed fully viable fetuses inside the womb. Those fully viable babies and fetuses didn’t come out of his own body, there were women choosing unnecessary abortions for each case.
Ben Lehman, I absolutely agree. “Personhood” is so hard to define, and I think it’s unfortunate that so much of the abortion debate revolves around this concept. This isn’t a criticism of Amp, since I think I have seen him write that even if a fetus is a person, it still doesn’t have the right to another person’s body. But in the abortion debate in general, people on both sides rely too much on arguments over “personhood” and whether fetuses have a “right to life,” when these issues are in fact not relevant to the central question of whether a woman should be forced to carry another person in her body against her will for nine months.
I spend at least 850 hours a year in volunteer activities, so yes – I do believe I understand the use of the word. And, as a bonus, the tone of this comment helps me understand where your screen name comes from.
And until someone decides to adopt a 16-year-old child with a criminal record that has a terminal disease, they will be forced to support her. You’re right – it’s not hard to follow at all. At least not for me….
Absent rape, a pregnant woman is pregnant as a consequence of the choices she made. Even if she was not seeking to be pregnant, even if she took steps to avoid pregnancy, she knew quite well that pregnancy was one of the possible outcomes and is responsible for the consequences. Consider that if I drink and drive, I am presumed to be responsible for a homicide if I get into an accident where someone dies even if I took precautions not to get into an accident once I got behind the wheel.
I set as a condition that her parents had enough money to pay for her care. A terminal disease may not be ruinously expensive if you are put into hospice care.
The State will compel them to pay for her care. As I personally think it should. But it seems to me that the very definition of enslavement is to require person A to work for person B’s benefit against their will.
People who are truly opposed to paying for other people’s medical care do have options. They can join the Tea Party and support politicians who favor allowing people who can’t pay to die on the streets. In the extreme case, they can move to places where no such laws exist (most of those places are quite unpleasant and there’s almost certainly an at least partial causal connection, but it can be done). This is not slavery, it’s simply part of the social contract that people in this society have agreed to. And which they can withdraw from if they object enough.
In contrast, illegalizing abortion is promoting slavery or at least indentured servitude. Women who are pregnant rarely have the time to get to somewhere more sane if they are pregnant with a dangerous or undesired pregnancy and unable to obtain an abortion locally. And may be too ill to travel. Practically speaking, a woman who is pregnant has little chance of removing herself from the society that demands she stay pregnant at risk to her physical and mental health and future life situation. Hence, the ease with which abortion restrictions become effective tools of slavery.
Consider that if I drink and drive, I am presumed to be responsible for a homicide if I get into an accident where someone dies even if I took precautions not to get into an accident once I got behind the wheel.
True, but if you get into a car and drive it, you know you’re taking the risk that you might kill someone. Even if you’re sober, well rested, and not talking on a cell phone or texting.
Suppose you started to drive to work one morning. You haven’t had a drink in 3 days, slept 8 hours last night, and turned off your cell phone for the drive. You pick up your coworker whom you carpool with. You make sure he has his seatbelt on. Unfortunately, despite these precautions, a combination of an oil slick on the highway and slightly too slow reflexes on your part mean that you get into a bad accident. Your airbag deploys and you walk away. Your coworker’s does too but by bad luck, he hits his head on the roof of the car and is killed.
Are you guilty of homicide? You took every reasonable precaution, made sure your car was in good working order, that you were in top condition for driving, that your coworker did everything possible to make sure he was safe. Yet, in the end, driving is dangerous. You knew that and you drove anyway. Should you be convicted of homicide for this death? For that matter, suppose you broke your leg in the accident. Should a hospital treat you? You knew the dangers and we’d only be saving you from something you chose to risk.
For your position to be consistent, I think you’d have to say that you should go to prison with an unset broken leg.
The third letter in CaitieCat’s nom du guerre is an “i”, Ron, not a “t”.
I think that this is potentially an excellent analogy, but it needs tweaking. Let’s see… how does this sit with you:
“Absent someone deliberately cutting cutting his brake lines or nailing his car with a missile, a driver who gets in an accident does so as a consequence of the choices he made. Even if he was not seeking to get into an accident, even if he took steps to avoid doing so, he knew quite well that an accident was one of the possible outcomes and is responsible for the consequences.”
A few years ago, I investigated an accident in which the lug bolts which held the wheel onto the car simply sheared off when the car hit a random bump (a frost heave). The car went briefly out of control, and the wheel went bouncing off through traffic. Fortunately, no one was hurt. In my report, I found that the driver was not at fault, because it was an unforeseeable mechanical failure. If the lug nuts had worked loose, then whoever last changed the tire would have been at fault, but that didn’t happen. No doubt a lawyer could argue that the manufacturer was at fault, but there has been no epidemic of this happening with this make and model of car, so he probably can prove it to a standard of preponderance of the evidence.
Using your logic, if that tire had done significant damage, or hurt somebody, the driver would be completely responsible. After all, the driver knew that an accident was a possibility, however small, when he got behind the wheel (even though the chances of this happening are somewhere in the region of a pregnancy happening when the person with the sperm has had a vasectomy and the person with the uterus is on oral contraception and they use a condom and spermicide).
That’s just not a logic which we apply anywhere else in our society. Even in the Navy, theoretically the most responsibility-stringent organization in the world, we don’t hold the captain of a ship accountable for equipment failures where the equipment was procured, installed, tested, and used as specified. This is true even if it kills a crew member. Why are you applying this standard to pregnant girls and women?
No, you’re not. Criminally, you’re going to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And you won’t even be arrested and charged until the State can show probable cause. Civilly, you’re presumed faultless until someone proves that you are responsible, to a standard of preponderance of the evidence.
In my report, I found that the driver was not at fault, because it was an unforeseeable mechanical failure.
Correct. A wheel shearing off a car – whether due to multiple manufacturing flaws or because a mechanic got too enthusiastic with an impact wrench – is reasonably described as “unforseeable”. A woman getting pregnant because the contraception method that either she or her husband/boyfriend used failed is not unforseeable.
A wheel shearing off a car – whether due to multiple manufacturing flaws or because a mechanic got too enthusiastic with an impact wrench – is reasonably described as “unforseeable”.
Nonsense. If you chose to drive a car you do so with the understanding that it contains many parts which may fail at any moment. No one NEEDS to drive a car. I haven’t done so in over 10 years without dying, which proves that it’s an optional part of life. If you CHOSE to do so anyway, then you’re responsible for anything that happens.
At least, you should be if you’re applying a similar standard to pregnancy. In real life, I don’t think that someone who drives responsibly should be blamed for accidents life this one nor that a woman who becomes pregnant despite reasonable precautions against pregnancy such as using birth control should be blamed for the pregnancy. (Not to mention the dubious value of forcing someone to continue a pregnancy they don’t want as punishment. Real great for the kid(s) produced in such a way.)
“This is not slavery, it’s simply part of the social contract that people in this society have agreed to.”
It is amazing how you can use this to be so dismissive and then immediately pivot into the idea that not being able to choose to get a dead baby after viability counts as slavery.
Why couldn’t that just simply be part of the social contract that people in this society agree to?
And it is disconcerting to see how many people in this thread seem to have forgotten the lessons of the thread on the right to male abortion (the idea of a male having the right to walk away from an unwanted pregnancy). In THAT thread we learned that having sex always has a risk of unwanted pregnancy and you have to just suck it up if it plays out in ways that you didn’t want.
Sebastian, there are a zillion threads in which you can discuss “choice for men” on Alas, including several posts (like this one, and this one) which specifically address the issue you bring up. Bringing it up in this thread is off-topic.
Did you even bother reading the post? (ETA: I can’t say for sure that a post-28 week fetus can’t have aims, although I have doubts. But I can say for sure that for the 99.99999% or so of abortions that take place before that point, the fetus (or embryo) has no aims because it has no mind. As the post discussed.)
I don’t defend Gosnell at all; he’s a scumbag who belongs in prison. But no, he did not perform abortions just before the baby was going to be “born anyway”; he used drugs to induce labor.
He isn’t bringing CFM into it, he’s noting that we have exhaustively argued the question of whether pregnancy is an intrinsic risk of sex for ordinary folk in ordinary circumstances, regardless of the mitigability of that risk. It is; those taking the contraposition were not able to coherently defend their stance. So perhaps let’s save time and not recapitulate that argument.
Robert, of course he’s bringing the CFM argument into it.
And so are you.
I certainly don’t agree either with your ridiculously dishonest summary of the argument (no one argued that “pregnancy” is not an intrinsic risk of piv sex), or with the idea that those who disagreed with Sebastian were unable to coherently defend their stance.
However, I refuse to argue with you about this in this thread. If you want to argue this further, take it to a different thread.
It is amazing how you can use this to be so dismissive and then immediately pivot into the idea that not being able to choose to get a dead baby after viability counts as slavery.
Sevearl unconnected points to make…
1. The right to an abortion isn’t about a “dead baby” it’s about a non-existent baby. The majority of abortions take place in the first trimester, in fact in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. To call an embryo which literally has no brain a baby is utterly ridiculous. The majority of late second and third trimester abortions occur because of fetal anomalies, including, relatively frequently, anenecephaly. A baby born with anencephaly is legally dead. It can be used for organ donation. Why should it be considered living in the uterus, dead outside it?
2. One of the key elements of whether something is slavery or not is whether or not it can be escaped. There is no realistic way for a poor or frequently even middle class woman in a country or even state with no legal abortion to get out of an undesired pregnancy safely and legally: it simply takes too long to identify a place of refuge, get the money to get there, have the procedure, etc. A person who objects to their society’s decision to fund medical care can move. They do not have the same time constraint. Nor are they likely to have airlines refuse to carry them because they’re pregnant and it is unlikely that they risk social shunning for their decision.
“Forcing” people to pay for things that they don’t approve of via their taxes is not slavery. (No, not even for things I disapprove of such as subsidizing tobacco farmers, fighting aggressive wars, or capital punishment.) It might be wrong, i.e. I think it very wrong to subsidize tobacco farmers whose crop has the sole purpose of addicting and killing people, but I don’t think I’m enslaved because some of my tax money goes for that purpose.
Really, Sebastian, if paying for women to not die during pregnancy offends you that badly, move to some place that they don’t require it. You don’t even have to go all the way to Somalia. Nicaragua probably doesn’t and it’s a moderately nice country as these things go.
3. What Gosnell was doing was illegal. His clinic was shut down when it was discovered. And no woman in her right mind would go to someone like Gosnell if she had a choice. He preyed on women who were made vulnerable by bad laws. Laws which made it impossible for them to get an abortion earlier in their pregnancies. Laws that made them afraid to go to a legitimate OB to have an abortion for fear of deportation. Change those laws and there will be no more Gosnells. Expand those laws, as we are currently doing, and there will be more Gosnells, no matter how extreme you make the laws punishing abortion. Or illegal immigration.
I can’t say for sure that a post-28 week fetus can’t have aims, although I have doubts.
It’s pretty unlikely. Humans don’t pass the mirror test until around 15-18 months, so there’s no definitive proof that even a newborn has conscious thought and self-awareness.
The fetus also lives in a low oxygen environment. When (living, born, definitely self-aware) people are put in a low oxygen environment, they lose consciousness quickly. It seems fairly unlikely that a fetus would be more conscious than a child or adult in a low oxygen environment, though perhaps not impossible when one considers the oxygen dissociation curves of fetal versus adult globin. Still, I’ve never heard of people with HPFH being able to tolerate hypoxia particularly well, so probably not. (Actually, it may work against the fetus since the tissue will have a harder time getting the oxygen off the heme molecule.)
Finally, why should the fetus have conscious thought or goals? It can’t do anything about it if it did. There’s no evolutionary advantage that I can see to the fetus having an active cortex.
Of course, the vast majority of legal 28+ week abortions occur in fetuses which as so malformed that they will die shortly after birth and often on fetuses that will be considered dead as soon as they are born. So this discussion is largely irrelevant to “real life”.
Dianne: “Laws which made it impossible for them to get an abortion earlier in their pregnancies.”
That is a flat out falsehood. Gosnell operated in Pennsylvania, a place in which getting early abortions is not particularly difficult. (I would say ‘easy’ but I don’t want to get sucked into that particular word.) Definitely NOT impossible or anywhere near it. Even if you posit that a place like Kansas is ‘impossible’ to get an abortion (which would be you just responding to propaganda about abortion providers needing to be ‘full time abortion providers’ and the lack of full time abortion providers in Kansas) you can’t even come close to making that argument about Pennsylvania.
“His clinic was shut down when it was discovered. ” It wasn’t discovered while he did it for 10 years precisely because Pennsylvania didn’t want to ‘burden’ abortion providers. That is not speculation or mind reading on my part. The governor’s office specifically chose not to investigate abortion clinics or complaints about them because they thought it would increase the burden of a woman’s right to choose.
That rather noticeably cuts against your frame that Pennsylvania was a place where it was ‘impossible’ to get an earlier abortion.
Amp “I don’t defend Gosnell at all; he’s a scumbag who belongs in prison. But no, he did not perform abortions just before the baby was going to be “born anyway”; he used drugs to induce labor.”
He used drugs to induce labor *on viable fetuses that could have lived outside the woman’s womb*. Those fetuses and wombs weren’t just things he bought in a catalog. They involved women who were seeking to abort late term fetuses. The whiplash on when women do and do not have agency is amazing on this thread. We are all so desperate to protect their choices, right up until we hit real world cases [hundreds with just Gosnell] where they choose to abort viable fetuses that can live outside their mother’s wombs. Gosnell is magical doctor who is aborting fetuses from disembodied wombs.
It isn’t intellectually honest to keep claiming that women never or almost never seek to abort viable fetuses without medical necessity in the face of the Gosnell case. You can have your opinions, but you don’t get to create your own facts. In Gosnell’s cases *as you note* he was inducing labor anyway. These women had to go through the end-of-pregnancy labor process in order to get these abortions, they weren’t avoiding the medical risks of labor. Their babies were viable and they weren’t avoiding medical risks to themselves.
That is something you say is so rare that it never or almost never happens. So rare that it isn’t worth bothering with in the law.
But it happened at least a hundred verifiable times with a single doctor.
Gosnell operated in Pennsylvania, a place in which getting early abortions is not particularly difficult.
“Not particularly difficult”? Are you out of your mind? Restrictions on abortion in Pennsylvania include:
No public funding (i.e. Medicaid) unless the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is a result of rape. This means effectively no abortion for poorer women and, at best, a delay in getting the abortion due to having to raise funds. Most Planned Parenthood locations will give sliding scale fees, but that doesn’t help much if you live in Outer Alabama, PA and have to raise funds to get to the PP. For that matter, sometimes even the bus fair into center city Philadelphia can be a problem for poor women living in northeast Philadelphia. (The hospital I work for has funding from the state to pay for transportation for patients to come to clinic. Yes, we pay people to come see us. But, of course, this funding can’t be used for abortion care.)
Minors can only obtain an abortion with parental consent. Again, a delay at best and sometimes a fatal restriction as pregnant minors try “home remedies” to get rid of unwanted pregnancies.
Women must have “counseling” designed to discourage her from having an abortion-there’s no requirement that it be honest or factual-and wait 24 hours. Again, for women from rural parts of the state this is a major issue and of course it’s a problem in that it means taking 2 days off from work instead of one. And if your employer is a fundie who is suspicious of your time off, it might mean finding a new job.
State employees’ health insurance doesn’t cover abortion care. I can’t comment on how much money state employees make, but I doubt that they’re overpaid.
82% of counties in PA have no provider.
Ok, admittedly, it’s not South Dakota, but if these were restrictions on men getting necessary medical care, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be an outcry. How about for fairness we make a few restrictions on men’s health. Nausea’s a common symptom of pregnancy. So, let’s say that men experiencing nausea for any reason must wait at least 24 hours before getting medication for their nausea. They must also receive extensive counseling about the possible side effects of the medication and the “counseling” must be given by representatives of rival drug manufacturers. There is no requirement that the counseling be fact based, but it must discourage use of the medication. It goes without saying that the state will not pay for the medication*. Boys must obtain their parents’ permission before use. And you have to go to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to pick up the meds. That sounds completely reasonable and in no way an attempt to punish men, right?
*Cost of average anti-nausea meds ranges from $5-$200 per pill. Use of the cheaper medications will be further restricted as they have more side effects. Strictly for the men’s benefit of course.
Okay, fine. Women who aren’t in some way *desperate* and/or *terrified* pretty much never seek to abort viable fetuses. Things like fear of picketers, which is a pretty viable fear when you consider that abortion providers get stalked and murdered by members of the same organization that are out there protesting. Things like not being able to scrape the money together until you pass viability. Or things like going to a shady clinic because you are worried about going to jail or being deported.
quoted from RH Reality check
Either way, the point remains that women generally don’t seek late-term abortions unless something is really, really wrong. That wrong might not be a medical issue, but from the descriptions I’ve seen, someone would have to be pretty desperate to have ever walked in Gosnell’s door. It’s also not like any of what he did was legal.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention the second factor that came into play for quite a number of Gosnell’s patients: immigration laws. Many of his patients (to use the term loosely) were immigrants to the US, legal or not. Immigrants, including legal immigrants, face restrictions on their medical care, ranging from not being qualified for public insurance to restrictions on free medication from the manufacturer programs to fear (justified or not) of being deported. Hospitals in NYC specifically advertise that they do not check immigration status because they want immigrants to go there as a matter of public health. I haven’t seen similar campaigns in PA and must admit I don’t know the law in PA well, but if immigrants fear going to the hospital in famously immigrant friendly NYC, how much more will they fear xenophobic PA? Hence, their willingness to take their chances with someone like Gosnell who might kill them but won’t turn them in to immigration, which might result in the death of them and their families, depending on where they risked getting deported to.
Thanks for that info, Dianne. I’m originally from Pennsylvania. Abortion.com lists a whopping *3* providers. The **closest** to the town where I grew up is 200 miles away. Planned Parenthood is a little better. There’s one in New York that’s only 55 miles away. If Gosnell had set up shop in, say, Bradford PA, I can *easily* picture women in that area going to him, not because they said “Screw it” at 29 weeks, but because of money and logistics.
Sebastian, in my original post I brought up the example of a woman who is just about to give birth anyway, but who chooses an abortion instead — an idea I’ve constantly heard from pro-lifers. You claimed, falsely, that Gosnell performed such abortions. You don’t admit that you were wrong, or withdraw your false comment.
I did NOT bring up the example of “women never or almost never seek to abort viable fetuses without medical necessity.” I wouldn’t make that claim anymore — because you let me know about the Gosnell case in a previous thread (you see, I actually do read your comments!). But it doesn’t matter to you; as your most recent comment makes clear, you’re going to accuse me of saying things without regard to whether I actually did say them.
And then you accuse me of being intellectually dishonest.
You’re not short on chuzpah, I’ll give you that.
P.S. This is obviously a minor side issue — although I do find your habit of putting words I never said into my mouth irritating. But the more important issues were covered very well by Dianne and Kelly.
I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that you were making a distinction between just about to give birth [I still don’t understand what time frame you mean] and ‘fully viable with no medical necessity’. They sounded like different ways of saying the same thing to me.
Amp – I hope you don’t mind me responding to Sebastian – please feel free to correct me if I’ve misinterpreted what you said.
I think the difference between “a woman who is just about to give birth anyway, but who chooses an abortion instead” and women who seek to abort “fully viable [fetuses] with no medical necessity” is one of motivation. Clearly, the latter category includes the former one. However, I think Kelly K’s and Dianne’s comments (not to mention this post by Grace) demonstrate that most women seeking to abort in the later parts of their pregnancy do not do so on a whim – they haven’t for months been planning on giving birth to the baby, and all of the sudden change their minds.
Rather, they are women who, for most of the time they’ve been pregnant, have wanted not to be pregnant, but who have been – due to institutional and societal barriers – unable to access the resources and services to terminate the pregnancy (or prevent implantation via the use of emergency contraception). The woman suddenly changing her mind at the ‘last minute’ about whether she wants to have a baby or not is a straw-woman (theoretically possible; statistically very unlikely), and nothing anyone on this thread has said or referenced disproves that.
I’m not sure what you mean by *fully* viable, but 26-27 week births have a 90% survival rate. So, time-wise, the difference between those two can be about 3 months.
Even as a strong prochoice advocate this seems like a straw man here:
Why is the woman’s desire not have an abortion, or not, the determining factor? From a pro-life-zealot perspective, the issue is really whether the fetus can survive, and/or whether it meets some arbitrary “personhood” standard which–as far as i can tell–include all survivable feti and many nonsurvivable ones as well.
How many times is it necessary to hash out the argument from the wrong side? It’s not a question of whether the feti has personhood or not. It’s a preliminary issue of whether the personhood is even relevant. And if it IS relevant, what the effect would be.
If you avoid discussing the difficult cases (such as the above-mentioned doctor) you’re removing important information from the discussion.
Imagine that those women deliberately chose to abort full-term feti shortly before delivery. Would that be morally wrong? Should that be illegal?
I realize that it’s difficult to answer “yes” to either question without opening yourself up to a slippery slope argument. And I realize that most pro-choice advocates hate to go there. But so what if it’s uncomfortable? It’s a crucial part of the discussion.
Folks are talking about cars, for chrissake, and criminal liability for motorists, while refusing to have a detailed discussion of the actual issue. It makes no sense.
Why shouldn’t you be able to get an abortion on a whim, medical needs be damned? And what’s the standard fr “most?” What percentage of women (or feti) need to meet what criteria, for you to change your position?
I absolutely believe that anyone who is pregnant should be able to “get an abortion on a whim, medical needs be damned.” I think it is the exclusive prerogative of the person who is pregnant to decide whether the zygote/embryo/fetus inside them is a person and whether or not that is relevant.
I get the first part.
I really don’t get the second part. It seems to pretty much eliminate the concept of personhood, if it’s individually and subjectively determined.
Is that honestly a very important distinction to you? You say “I might hold that view myself, if we were talking about the case of a woman choosing an unnecessary abortion shortly before she would have given birth anyway…”, are you saying you’re okay with would, but not with could?
It just seems a really strange line to draw, to take view that you could reasonably talk about balancing the rights of a pregnant woman and late-term fetus if she’s approaching natural labor, but if not – and you could merely induce labor – then the notion’s preposterous.
Not really. Their views on which women abort in late pregnancy and why may be completely true, but it’s only true because we have a very restrictive law on abortion in late pregnancy. If might help if I used food adulteration as a comparison. It’s incredibly rare, but you wouldn’t say that it’s a non-issue and the law’s pointless and campaign against it because of this – like they’re trying to do with abortion. It used to be widespread and is rare precisely because there’s been an determined legal campaign to prevent it.
The use of the word ‘whim’ is an offensive right wing trope used to trivialise women’s decisions you are adopting because it’s rhetorically easy. However, it is an fact that women change their mind over wantedness during the course of a pregnancy, not due to ‘whims’, but due to changes in their financial, relationships and other responsibilities. If you want you can pretend that women conceive, take a firm view on the wantedness of a pregnancy, would abort unwanted pregnancies at the earliest oportunity given no constraints, and do not change their minds. But you’re really only fooling people who want to be fooled.
It’s not a determining factor as far as legality, but it makes a difference in how it’s most practical to deal with extremely late term abortions. Sebastian H is arguing that post-viability, non-medical abortions are common, and a huge problem, and that regulations need to be put in place to prevent this. And he described PA as a pretty non-restrictive place to try to get an abortion. To which Dianne and I pretty much responded, “Wait, what?”
Most existing state laws prohibit abortion in the third trimester, or at some point after 24 weeks, except for medical reasons. I totally agree with those laws, provided that they include medical exceptions. What I’m very leery of, however, is regulations with the stated aim of enforcing those laws that results in doctors being afraid to perform a medically necessary abortion unless the woman is about to die right that minute, or families having to spend an hour watching their ancephalic baby die.
That’s why the reasons are relevant.
Full-term *healthy* feti? And the mothers are also healthy? Then yes, to both questions.
I’ve previously said that I would be willing to support a nation wide ban on third trimester abortion if and only if the following criteria were met:
1. Early abortion (first 12 weeks) were available without restriction and for free or very little money.
2. Abortion were readily available and free at any time if the woman’s life or health is in danger. If the woman’s health is in danger from the pregnancy, then the pregnancy should be ended as soon as practical in the way that causes least risk to the pregnant woman. Yes, this includes mental health. Depression has a 20% mortality rate if not treated and not all depression is treatable.
3. Abortion were readily available and free at any time if the fetus had anomalies inconsistent with life outside the uterus. Babies dying of neurodegenerative disorders often cry inconsolably for months before dying. Keeping them alive to suffer is not humane or sensible. Another specific case to mention is twin fetuses in which one twin is dead or doomed and the other can be saved: get the abortion in time to save the second twin.
4. It is acknowledged outright that we are giving the fetus a privilege that no living person has. Namely, the right to live on another person’s body potentially against their will and that therefore all ambiguous cases should be resolved in favor of the pregnant woman’s wishes.
5. It be illegal to coerce or physically prevent someone from having an abortion. Specifically, “pregnancy crisis centers” that are deceptive in their advertising be shut down (though honest centers which advertise their purpose of convincing women to complete pregnancies and truly offering help in doing so would, of course, still be legal), kidnapping a pregnant woman for the purpose of preventing her from having an abortion would carry additional penalty beyond the usual for abduction, blocking clinic entrances or harassing women entering clinics should be both illegal and taken seriously as a crime, etc.
In short, make it possible for women to have an abortion early in pregnancy if they want one and I’d be fine with restrictions on purely elective later abortion, though in theory it’s still privileging the fetus.