Cartoon: Pro-Lifers in Everyday Life


If you like these cartoons, then you probably like chocolate, because who doesn’t like chocolate? And, similarly, who doesn’t like my cartoons? They’re basically the same thing, Also, patreon link.


I don’t bring this up a lot, because it’s really just a weird thing about me, not a relevant policy argument. But I’m genuinely insulted by the pro-life idea that I – an adult human being with thoughts and desires and consciousness – am morally identical to, and no more valuable than, a fetus which not only lacks all those things, but is physically incapable of having any desires or thoughts or consciousness at all.

You need a brain for all that stuff. And until fairly late in a pregnancy – long after virtually all abortions take place – a fetus doesn’t have a functioning brain.

Many pro-life arguments emphasize that a “preborn” baby may have fingers and toes and eyes, often accompanied by photoshopped images of a fetus made to look especially cute. But none of that is relevant. A person born without fingers or toes or eyes is still a person. A mannequin can have all that stuff and it’s not a person.

Personhood is our personality, our thoughts, our selves. And all of that is contained in our brains.

I’m especially annoyed when the “fetuses aren’t morally different from any other human!” argument is made by referring to the Holocaust – “if we say fetuses aren’t people, isn’t that like the Nazis saying Jews aren’t people?”

Sure it’s like that, as long as we accept that Jews are brainless creatures incapable of having any consciousness at all. I myself am not prepared to accept that.


The non-personhood of the fetus is not, to me, the most important argument against the pro-forced-birth position. The most important argument, I think, is that it’s simply immoral to force people become involuntarily life support systems. (An argument famously made by Judith Jarvis Thomson in her “A Defense of Abortion” back in 1971). (I’ve done a couple of cartoons on that theme, like “Forced Kidney Donation” and “Fight Medical Tyranny“.)


This cartoon was oddly slow to draw. Looking at it now, I’m not sure why it took forever. It does have fairly detailed backgrounds (at least for me), and all the backgrounds were drawn with actual perspective lines, and that does take longer to do, but not that much longer.

Sometimes it just doesn’t go smoothly. But other strips come out of my stylus quickly and easily; I guess it all balances out on the imaginary cosmic comics scales.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows a different scene of two people talking. A caption at the bottom of the cartoon says “PRO-LIFERS IN EVERYDAY LIFE.”

PANEL 1

Two women are talking in a store that has large displays of laptop computers – a Best Buy or something like that.  One woman, who is dressed a sales associate (skirt, vest over collared shirt, nametag), is grinning and holding up a laptop to display it. The other woman, who has an undercut and is wearing a zip-up hoodie and carrying a purse, is leaning down to look at the laptop skeptically. )

CUSTOMER: I’m not buying that – there’s no operating system or hard drive and the CPU is missing.

SALESPERSON: It’s still a computer!

PANEL 2

A man and a woman are in a home kitchen. The man, who is youngish but balding early, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt that says “Band Name” on the front, is basically squeeing with joy while looking at the woman’s plate. The woman, dressed in a flower print shirt and plaid pants, is holding a plate with an omelet on it and looking annoyed.

MAN: Wow, you got a chicken? What’s its name?

WOMAN (thought): Oh god not this again

WOMAN (aloud): It’s an omelet!

PANEL 3

A woman wearing a sleeveless shirt, and with a heavily tattooed arm, and her black hair in a messy bun, is holding a paint roller in one hand, while the other hand is on the rung of a ladder. She looks annoyed. Behind her, a man with glasses and a polo shirt is leaning in her window from outside and yelling at her.

MAN: That paint color isn’t the choice I’d make.

MAN (yelling): It should be banned!

PANEL 4

An annoyed man stands in the door to his house, arms folding, blocking the way. He’s staring down at a tiny child on the front step. The child looks surprised.

MAN: You expect me to take care of you even after you’re born?


This cartoon on Patreon

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34 Responses to Cartoon: Pro-Lifers in Everyday Life

  1. 1
    Joe in Australia says:

    I think Jarvis is too casual about dismissing the argument that it would be morally wrong for the patient to cause the violinist’s death even if the responsibility for his life had been forced upon them. What I find more persuasive is the reasoning of the Talmud which says that a fetus wouldn’t have the right to injure the person carrying it even if we assumed that it was a person. The Talmud argues elsewhere that people are obliged to withdraw from dangerous situations and, indeed, to rescue other people from them. Many pregnancies are dangerous; consequently, there is a class of abortions that are at least permissible and perhaps even obligatory. That doesn’t get us to abortions being universally available, but perhaps this will: our actual experience has been that restricting abortion is itself a grave risk to life. It causes delays or even denial of crucial medical care and it has made that care much less available. We will probably never adequately be able to define the boundaries of risk (particularly psychological risk) posed by a pregnancy; consequently we have no choice but to defer to the people on the scene, as it were: the person carrying the fetus and their physician. And that’s even with an actual pregnancy that potentially will come to term, not (e.g.) an ectopic pregnancy, not a D&C to treat a miscarriage, not drugs that are designed to stop implantation of an embryo. So by prioritising our respect for the right to life we actually end up with an argument in favour of choice: we have seen over and over again that denying people’s right to choose abortion causes more deaths.

  2. 2
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    That guy in the “Band Name” shirt! I love his expression and body language so much.

  3. 3
    Kate says:

    I think Jarvis is too casual about dismissing the argument that it would be morally wrong for the patient to cause the violinist’s death even if the responsibility for his life had been forced upon them.

    What about the risk to the patient’s life, if it is comparable to that of pregnacy and childbirth?
    For my born child, I can not be forced to give so much as a pint of my blood – the work of mere minutes, with no long term adverse health effects – to preserve their life. But, for an unborn child, I must turn over use of my whole body (because, in my experince, pregnancy affects the whole body) for nine months, with the very real possibility that I could be permenently disfigured or even die?
    If you are religious, and you believe that our bodies belong not to us, but to God, and that He is the only one who should chose if a pregnancy continues or ends, that makes sense. But, if you are making laws in a secular society, with separation between church and state? No, it doesn’t make sense.

  4. 4
    Eytan Zweig says:

    My problem with the “you can’t force people to be life support system” argument is that while it’s an excellent argument against laws that force pregnancies to continue, it has the side effect of, to some degree, ceding the ethical argument. Because it’s perfectly coherent and indeed tempting to say that “you shouldn’t be forced to bodily support the embryo/fetus, but if you are moral, you would choose to do so”. After all, I don’t have a problem with being asked to donate blood, and I myself believe that doing so is the moral choice not just for me, but for anyone who is able to do so safely, even though I would oppose a legal mandate forcing people to do so.

    And the result, a society where abortions are legal but shamed/discouraged by many (e.g. many parts of 2021 America), may be better better than one where abortions are illegal, but it’s still far from desirable.

    So the argument on the non-personhood of the fetus, to me, is the most important one, because it is an answer to both the legal and the moralistic drives against abortion. Though really this is a false dichotomy, because we don’t have to choose just a single argument for supporting choice.

  5. 5
    Corso says:

    Kate @ 3

    For my born child, I can not be forced to give so much as a pint of my blood – the work of mere minutes, with no long term adverse health effects – to preserve their life. But, for an unborn child, I must turn over use of my whole body (because, in my experince, pregnancy affects the whole body) for nine months, with the very real possibility that I could be permenently disfigured or even die?

    I try not to rehash old points, but maybe this is a different enough view to add something.

    Again…. The obligatory: I am pro-choice. I believe that regardless of the personhood of the unborn, there are conflicting rights in play, and the preeminent right is bodily autonomy. Therefore, I believe that women should have the right to make decisions about their bodily autonomy, and that includes the right to abortion.

    But, as I tried to do before, and I think you’ll eventually need to do: The legality and morality of the issue are separate. Of course you should not be forced to give blood, and of course you should not be forced to serve as an incubator…. But you realize that they’re generally the right things to do, right?

    Your first example is obvious – What’s the argument for not giving blood at that point? Like you said, it’s a labour of minutes, you save a life, a life that’s even close to you! *And* you get to eat a doughnut afterward. It’s obviously your right not to donate blood under that fact pattern, but barring some kind of health related reason not to… what kind of person doesn’t?

    That logic carries through, to some extent, to abortion. We’ve disagreed here, a lot, over whether or not the unborn have *some* level of value, *some* level of personhood, and we obviously disagree on what that level is, but I’ll explain my view as a starting off point:

    To use a really tangential metaphor: I don’t like the idea of student debt forgiveness. Not because “I paid it so so should they”, but because it ultimately amounts to welfare for the wealthy. Sure, those graduates might not be wealthy now, but education is, by far, the most determinant indicator of future earnings and generally the people that go through school will out earn their uneducated peers by orders of magnitude. The most common fact pattern for post secondary educated people is: Take on Debt. Get educated. Graduate. Get job. Pay Debt. Earn more. The potential earnings of the graduate are what makes a blanket forgiveness scheme unpalatable to me, particularly when you consider what the downstream effects would be to people without education who would be, in part, subsidizing that program.

    Obviously, those potential earnings aren’t real earnings, and one might never work in their field, they might not graduate, they might become disabled, there might not be any demand for the credential… However this happens, it could happen, and all of a sudden, the potential earnings of that person evaporates, and they have debt. Regardless of my opinion on universal forgiveness, we need a plan for that.

    My point is that while potential earnings aren’t real earnings, they’re still not nothing. They have value.

    Back to abortion:

    I accept that the value and personhood of the unborn is probably a sliding scale, that the potentiality of personhood is not the same thing as personhood, and is obviously not the exact same level of value or personhood as a born person. But I don’t ascribe to the idea that the unborn have no value. And I don’t ascribe to that idea because if that entity does not have value or personhood before birth, what confers it? The magic of the birth canal? The first breath? That seems arbitrary and religious, frankly.

    I think that anyone arguing that abortion is a morally-neutral act needs to provide clarity on where they think the line is between a morally-neutral abortion and a morally-negative homicide. Because killing a living, breathing, healthy baby is wrong, right? So where is the line? And what makes that the line?

    If you can describe that line, I envy your certainty. I mean that. I don’t have it, and it bothers me. If you can’t, then perhaps abortion isn’t morally neutral, and while bodily autonomy is a right, barring a reason to have an abortion…. What kind of person does that?

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    That guy in the “Band Name” shirt! I love his expression and body language so much.

    Thank you! The nature of my policartoons means that I’m constantly drawing caricatures of right-wingers with exaggerated expressions of anger; it was a lot of fun to be able to do exaggerated joy instead.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    And I don’t ascribe to that idea because if that entity does not have value or personhood before birth, what confers it? The magic of the birth canal? The first breath? That seems arbitrary and religious, frankly.

    I find it odd that you’re totally ignoring what I said about brains in the post you’re commenting on.

    Once the fetus has a fully functioning brain, then it begins to develop some independent moral value – but this takes place long after 99.99% of abortions happen. Before that point, it has zero independent value (although it might have value ascribed to it by the pregnant person, of course).

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    I think Jarvis is too casual about dismissing the argument that it would be morally wrong for the patient to cause the violinist’s death even if the responsibility for his life had been forced upon them.

    I don’t think she dismisses it – iirc, she says that it might be the right thing to do, and it would definitely be a nice thing, to sacrifice nine months to save the violinist’s life. But she says that’s not enough to justify legally forcing someone to save the violinist’s life in that way.

  9. 9
    Ampersand says:

    Though really this is a false dichotomy, because we don’t have to choose just a single argument for supporting choice.

    Very true!

  10. 10
    Corso says:

    I find it odd that you’re totally ignoring what I said about brains in the post you’re commenting on.

    What you said was:

    Personhood is our personality, our thoughts, our selves. And all of that is contained in our brains.

    I’m still not sure what the standard is supposed to be there.

    Now that I’ve read what you said in 2006 it’s a little clearer, but what you said in 2006 was that while you didn’t know exactly when a fetus developed personhood, but that it wasn’t before week 28 because that’s when pyramidal cell dendritic spines emerge.

    Sure, that’s a standard, and a line. Is it yours? If it was, that leaves about 8 weeks. Does that mean that for the last 8 weeks of pregnancy, you think that there is a different shade of morality on abortion?

    Perhaps not, because you gave that as the earliest point possible, and you also said that you thought that cognition before birth was “like having a blank hard drive”, and what you just said was “fully functioning” brain… Depending on how you want to define that, you could mean something post-birth, heck… Our brains continue development until after puberty.

    Meanwhile, about 30% of premature babies born between weeks 22 and 23 survive, and the survival rate scales up steeply from there. Does a premature baby born at 24 weeks have value? Are they a person? Does that baby have rights? Can you kill it? Is it morally neutral to kill it?

    Where is the line, and what makes it the line?

    I don’t have clarity on this, I have ideas on where personhood might start, and how it might develop, but morality is definitionally a subjective discussion. The certainty with which some pro-choice advocates can neutralize personhood has always left me uncomfortable.

    If you are certain that there is no value, no personhood, in the unborn… Then where does a person’s value and personhood come from? At what point do they have it? And when do we get to grieve it?

    Because even if, as you say, 99.99% of abortions are had before any speck of personhood might exist (and I think that’s hyperbolic, but…) there are about 600,000 abortions performed annually in America, and that means that there are about 60 babies of some level of personhood killed each year in the US. Which doesn’t change the math on what should or should not be legal, because the same problem of autonomy still exists. But it’s enough that every now and again I might think about it and feel a little bad.

  11. 11
    Corso says:

    The certainty with which some pro-choice advocates can neutralize personhood has always left me uncomfortable.

    And just to expand on this: Part of the reason that this makes me uncomfortable is that I’m legitimately not sure whether people actually think of the unborn as meaningless, personless, valueless clusters of cells, or that they think that it’s necessary to think that way in order to protect abortion rights, and because abortion rights should exist, they espouse those thoughts, maybe even to the point of learning to believe them.

    In suggesting a timeframe where someone has a fully functioning brain, or a personality, I think you might have inadvertently dragged the morality window of abortion past birth. If not, please clarify, but regardless… Consider the 24 week old premature birth. If that’s not a person, if it cannot possibly have inherent value, because at 24 weeks, that brain is basically just grey slush (your words, not mine) would it be permissible to leave it on a table to starve until death? That might not be legal, because we’ve cured the bodily autonomy problem, and the state certainly thinks that that premature baby to be a person. But morally, absent those dendritic spines, is there a problem there?

    And if not then, when? At what point does that child develop inherent moral value?

  12. 12
    Kate says:

    Of course you should not be forced to give blood, and of course you should not be forced to serve as an incubator…. But you realize that they’re generally the right things to do, right?

    Surely the degree of intrusion on bodily autonomy is important. On a spectrum of give blood…to donate bone marrow…to donate a kidney, carrying a pregnancy to term is a lot closer to donating a kidney than to giving blood. In fact, pregnancy may be even riskier and more burdensome than donating a kidney, both physically and socially. How much risk to one’s own health should a person be morally obliged to take on for another person? My answer is, not much at all. So, while I would agree that donating blood, and probably even bone marrow is generally the right thing to do, I would consider donating a kidney or carrying a pregnancy to term more of a heroic thing to do.

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    Corso, to address some of your questions, I’m going to comment on something you wrote in an earlier comment.

    The magic of the birth canal? The first breath? That seems arbitrary and religious, frankly.

    This is what I call a “pregnant person? What pregnant person?” argument, because it ignores that the pregnant person exists. The birth canal isn’t magic, but being born eradicates the conflict between the patient’s right to bodily autonomy, and the fetus’ (now newborn’s) right to life. The only way to consider that an “arbitrary” change is to consider the pregnant person to have no value. Since I know you don’t think pregnant people have no value, I think you should admit that the fact of birth does change the moral equation we’re discussing.

    Part of the reason that this makes me uncomfortable is that I’m legitimately not sure whether people actually think of the unborn as meaningless, personless, valueless clusters of cells…

    I’m not “people,” I’m just me. But I genuinely, completely think of a fetus, prior to a functioning brain, as a personless, independently valueless cluster of cells.

    I’m not just saying that. It is literally the only view that I think makes sense, and people who consider a zygote to have inherent moral value are, as far as I can tell, either religious, or placing an unjustified weight on “potential,” or both.

    (I stress “independently” because of course a fetus in many cases has value to its parent or parents, and I don’t deny that value or think it’s meaningless. And to answer another of your questions, I think parents “get to grieve it” whenever they need to, and that’s entirely individual, not something we need a general rule for, contrary to what your question implied.)

    Regarding those 60 abortions a year that might happen to fetuses with functioning brains: I suspect nearly all of those are medically necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant person. I do think that’s sad, but that’s life. Pro-choice is not capable of providing a world in which sad things never happen (and neither is any other political movement).

    ETA: If you want to feel sad about that, of course that’s fine. (Sincerely.)

    But given how many sad things happen in the world, I don’t think anyone’s obligated to focus on that one bit of sadness in particular. You can be sad about it, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for you to say that other people should focus on and acknowledge feeling sad about that, if that’s what you’re saying.

  14. 14
    Corso says:

    Amp @ 13

    This is what I call a “pregnant person? What pregnant person?” argument, because it ignores that the pregnant person exists. The birth canal isn’t magic, but being born eradicates the conflict between the patient’s right to bodily autonomy, and the fetus’ (now newborn’s) right to life. The only way to consider that an “arbitrary” change is to consider the pregnant person to have no value. Since I know you don’t think pregnant people have no value, I think you should admit that the fact of birth does change the moral equation we’re discussing.

    It’s not that I’m ignoring the mother’s personhood or existence. On the contrary: The mother has personhood, value, rights and should have autonomy…. and no one here is debating that, so I’ve moved on.

    But does the unborn have personhood? And if they do, what confers it?

    You’ve said that it’s their brain, and that prior to 28 weeks, that brain is grey slush, that that life, whatever we want to call it, does not constitute a person and does not have value other than what someone else confers upon it.

    Sure, but in that case, where does the “fetus’ (now newborn’s)” “right to life” come from? Does it have that right? If the mother sees her child, premature at 24 weeks and says, “I’ve made a mistake, I can’t do this, and I can’t give her up, please kill it” how is that any different than if she had said that 24 hours previous?

    The answer, I think, legally is “we’ve solved bodily autonomy.” And sure, that has all kinds of moral implications….. for me. But you’ve said that their personhood comes from their brain, and they don’t have one yet. If that’s actually your standard, I don’t understand what your moral implications are here.

    Which is why I’d like to suggest…. gently…. That that might not actually be your standard. This might be pure, unadulterated projection on my part, and if it is, I’m sorry. But if you believe what you say, I don’t know why you’re struggling here: The “personless, independently valueless cluster of cells” (your words, not mine) was not changed in any way other than their external situation by their birth. Is something capable of personhood and value before week 28 or aren’t they?

    If they are…. Then there are some moral implications before birth.

    And if they aren’t…. I guess my question is what does birth change?

    I’m not just saying that. It is literally the only view that I think makes sense, and people who consider a zygote to have inherent moral value are, as far as I can tell, either religious, or placing an unjustified weight on “potential,” or both.

    Fair…. Not so much religion for me. Definitely the potential. Also a little empathy: I was once a cluster of cells too. And I like being me.

    Regarding those 60 abortions a year that might happen to fetuses with functioning brains: I suspect nearly all of those are medically necessary to protect the life or health of the pregnant person. I do think that’s sad, but that’s life. Pro-choice is not capable of providing a world in which sad things never happen (and neither is any other political movement).

    I think this is as close to pure agreement as we’ll ever get, maybe I didn’t need to respond… But yes: All of this.

  15. 15
    Dianne says:

    Of course you should not be forced to give blood, and of course you should not be forced to serve as an incubator…. But you realize that they’re generally the right things to do, right?

    No. There are circumstances under which giving blood or staying pregnant would be the morally wrong thing to do.

    For the blood example: Someone with a disease that is or can be transmitted via blood should not be giving blood. But neither should someone who faints at the sight of a needle. The latter sounds frivolous, but if you faint in the donor center, you force the phlebotomists to stop what they’re doing and tend to you–and you’ll be deferred, so they won’t even get blood out of it. Much as I wish more people would donate blood, I recognize that each individual knows their limits and what they are willing to do and I am not willing to push any further than, “Want to come with me to donate?”

    Pregnancy, of course, is much more dangerous than blood or possibly even than kidney donation. Many people cannot or do not want to go through with it for a variety of reasons, from high risk (or certainty) of death to not ready to take on raising a child. I would rather trust the individual who is pregnant to know what the right thing for them is than make a blanket statement that it is the right thing to do or even generally the right thing to do.

  16. 16
    Dianne says:

    If the mother sees her child, premature at 24 weeks and says, “I’ve made a mistake, I can’t do this, and I can’t give her up, please kill it” how is that any different than if she had said that 24 hours previous?

    In the absence of other instruction or special circumstances, a child’s parent will be their health care proxy and guardian. If the mother of a child born at 24 weeks says, “Enough suffering, withdraw care” then that is what the hospital team will do*. Why should a pregnant person not have that right 24 hours prior to birth if they have it 24 hours later?

    *There may be exceptions but they are rare. Although survival and even reasonably healthy survival is possible for a baby born at 24 weeks gestation, a lot do not survive and many who do have health problems later in life. Withdrawing care may be a very reasonable option. Especially since abortion or withdrawal of care after birth at 24 weeks is likely to be done because the fetus or baby has other health problems that make their chances of being a happy exception low.

  17. 17
    Joe in Australia says:

    I think that anyone arguing that abortion is a morally-neutral act needs to provide clarity on where they think the line is

    There’s an ancient logic puzzle: consider a pile of sand. If you remove one grain it’s still a pile of sand. And if you remove another it’s still a pile of sand. You can keep doing that for quite a while but at some point it’s clearly not a pile of sand. So where is the dividing line? It seems clear that classic logic with its binary truth values is not well adapted for questions like these.

    Here’s another thing: I assert that personhood begins before conception. It must! We, as a society, our planners and our laws take the interests of unborn persons into account every day. We build schools and hospitals for them, we pass laws that determine their rights, we act in the belief that we have a duty towards them. I, right now, could write a legal document bestowing property on someone whose parents haven’t even met yet. So why would we treat conception as some magical event? And yet, clearly, my duty towards this infinite number of hypothetical future people cannot be the same as my duty towards presently existing persons.

    No, I think my duty towards others is necessarily going to be a contingent and evolving one based on a moral calculus that takes circumstances into account. I can confidently acknowledge that the interests of a fetus sometimes outweigh the interests of a pregnant person in that we spend money on schools &c. for the future use of that fetus rather than the present needs of the pregnant person. But that tells us nothing about how to weigh the needs of the pregnant person against the fetus in other circumstances because, as I point out above, we make those sort of calculations even for people who will not exist for years or decades. Future people do not have a “right to life”: they have interests that exist in a moral framework which includes presently existing people, but their existence is hypothetical and fungible: if one future person doesn’t exist then another one likely will. As a pregnancy develops the fetus becomes less like a hypothetical future person and more like a presently existing person, which only means that our moral calculation must evolve to recognise that. And in fact that’s what does happen: we think differently about early and late abortions and treat (e.g.) a stillbirth very differently to a miscarriage involving a small blob of cells.

  18. 18
    Ampersand says:

    Corso, I feel I’ve somehow been unclear.

    When talking about the moral rights of fetuses/infants, I basically believe that we can divide it into three periods.

    1) The first 28 weeks or so of pregnancy. No functioning brains means, not a person at all. Has no independent moral value. The vast majority of abortions – including the majority of what we call “late term” abortions – take place in this period.

    2) The last 8 weeks or so of pregnancy. The brain at least exists, and the bare beginnings of personhood are present. This gives the fetus some independent moral value, in my view, but not enough to overwhelm the pregnant person’s right to bodily autonomy.

    3) Post-birth. Although the growth to personhood is gradual (I believe), the change from preborn to born isn’t. The moment we have a newborn, the moral calculus changes, because the newborn’s right to life is no longer in conflict with the pregnant person’s right to bodily autonomy.

    I’m not sure where you see me “struggling.” If I’ve said anything inconsistent with the above, then I think I misspoke. (Er, mistyped).

    Where would a prematurely born 24-week-old get the right to life from? Nothing intrinsic. Nothing independent. Any right to life they have, comes from the people around them – their parent(s), the doctors, society’s values, etc.. And if it’s wrong to kill them at that stage, it’s because of the damage killing might do to people around them, not because of their own independent value.

    Also a little empathy: I was once a cluster of cells too. And I like being me.

    I was once a cluster of cells, and I like being me. But if I had been aborted before I was me, then I would have lost nothing, because I would have never existed.

    (All the people involved in this story are okay with it being shared).

    I love my nieces. They’ve lived in the same household as me since their births; I met both of them on their respective day of births. They are incredible, awesome, beautiful people.

    And they wouldn’t exist without abortion.

    Their mom had an abortion years before they were born; without that abortion, their mom’s life would have been radically changed, in ways that would make it very unlikely that she and my neices’ father would ever have met.

    I don’t think the world is a worst place because my nieces exist, compared to the world in which a different child had been born instead. Probably that other child would have been wonderful, but I’m still happy my nieces got to be born instead.

    Any birth that happens, and any abortion that happens, probably leads to a world in which some potential children will not exist, who otherwise would exist. I don’t see any reason to have more empathy[*] for one potential future life than another (putting aside examples where I’m the father, or I’m pals with their parents, etc.).

    [*] I found myself wondering if it really makes sense to speak of having empathy for a nonexistent person. But sure, why not? People feel empathy for fictional characters all the time, so why can’t we also feel empathy for other kinds of nonexistent people?

  19. 19
    Dianne says:

    I was once a cluster of cells too. And I like being me.

    Just going to point out that this line of reasoning devolves into dadaism very quickly.

    I was once an oocyte and a sperm. I like being me. Therefore, no one should ever keep an oocyte and a sperm apart. Saying no is immoral! (Please, no one attempt to use this argument to get sex.)

    My parents grew up in very different parts of the US and only met because of a long string of circumstances involving, among other things, poverty and the draft. This does not make me think that poverty is a good thing or that people should be drafted.

    I’m a 15th generation American. (Not 15th generation USian, obviously, but American). I wouldn’t exist without the Spanish conquest of the Americas. And yet, if I could, I would interfere with that. I do not support further conquests of areas with less military technology by those with more military technology. Even though at least some people I would think were good people would come out of it.

    The possibility that I might have been aborted is the least of my existential worries. The number of events, good and bad, that led to any given person being born are so many and so random that if someone reversed time to before any of us were born, probably none of us would be and someone else would be having this conversation. Does this make everything that did happen the only moral thing that could?

  20. 20
    Dianne says:

    The fetus (embryo, zygote) is a very safe thing to champion. It will never say “nothing about us without us”. It will never call your intervention imperialist. It will never demand that you ask its opinion before making pronouncements about what would and would not be good for it. It will never even throw a tantrum. It can always be presumed to be grateful for your intervention. Every lost fetus can be presumed to be Einstein or Kariko.

    And that is strong evidence that it is not a person. People are messy. They fuss. They want things that they shouldn’t have–or that you shouldn’t give. They have independent wills and desires. Some of them are awful. And yet it is better, in my opinion at least, to help the messy and sometimes awful living people than the perfect fetus. Because it’s only the perfection of the void.

    This has nothing to do with the ongoing discussion, it’s just some random reflections on the abortion (and birth control) issue in general.

  21. 21
    Corso says:

    Amp @ 18

    I’m not sure where you see me “struggling.” If I’ve said anything inconsistent with the above, then I think I misspoke. (Er, mistyped).

    This might have been a hangup on my part, I didn’t think you’d carry the logic to:

    Where would a prematurely born 24-week-old get the right to life from? Nothing intrinsic. Nothing independent. Any right to life they have, comes from the people around them – their parent(s), the doctors, society’s values, etc.. And if it’s wrong to kill them at that stage, it’s because of the damage killing might do to people around them, not because of their own independent value.

    Which seems to open the door to morality-free post birth abortions, at least in the case of premature births. I think that a combination of my expectation that you wouldn’t go there coupled with you not explicitly saying it kept me from reading between the lines.

    We disagree. But I can respect where you’re coming from.

    I’m not sure exactly where the accumulation starts, but it seems obvious to me that regardless of where that point is, by the time the child is born, there has to be something there… a 24 week preemie might not be able to scream, because their lungs aren’t entirely developed, but they can cry. Is that purely an instinctive reflex to discomfort? Maybe. Will they remember it? Almost certainly not.

    (With permission)

    My cousin was a case like this, born at 25 weeks, slightly less than two pounds in early ’90s Winnipeg. After a weeks in an incubator, her family was allowed to take her home, and she still fit in a shoebox, which they used to keep the wind off her.

    The doctors, my aunt says, kept on telling her: “she’s not going to make it” “you’re just putting you and her through misery” “we should consider cutting support”. Well… They didn’t cut support, she did make it, and she’s vibrant.

    This colors my outlook, I think. You nailed it before, I’m big on potential. And I’m hardly ever disappointed banking on “person with moral value” being the potential outcome of not having an abortion because absent the mitigations that I’m pretty sure we all agree on, pregnancies have a pretty prolific success rate.

    Which is why Dianne @ 20’s comment is kind of an eye-roller for me.

    The fetus (embryo, zygote) is a very safe thing to champion. It will never say “nothing about us without us”. It will never call your intervention imperialist. It will never demand that you ask its opinion before making pronouncements about what would and would not be good for it. It will never even throw a tantrum. It can always be presumed to be grateful for your intervention. Every lost fetus can be presumed to be Einstein or Kariko.

    There’s a lot there…. I think she’s simultaneously saying that the activism is cheap, that the subjects don’t appreciate it, and that it amounts to virtue signaling. As if that’s unique to this topic. And as if the subjects would object, if only they had the capacity.

    Of course the unborn are very safe things to champion. They don’t object, or call you names, or throw a tantrum. Not even when they have the capacity to do so, at least not for that. What’s the likelihood, do you think, of someone not being grateful? I’m sure it’s possible. At least, not impossible. But probably a safe bet. Ask 1000 people if they’d preferred their mother had aborted them… How many people say yes?

    But that’s not really important. They don’t actually get a say. It doesn’t change which policy is right. And so perhaps I’m just a… sadist or a masochist, whichever is the one that likes hurting themselves…. Maybe I’m torturing myself and there really isn’t a moral problem with the policy that I really do believe is necessary. Maybe it would all be easier if I went all-in. But I’m not there.

  22. 22
    JaneDoh says:

    I am someone who definitely prioritizes the person who is here (ie the pregnant one) over the person who may be (ie the fetus). When I was pregnant I told my spouse that if something happened and there was a choice between me and the fetus, I would pick me. Even late in the pregnancy after we saw the ultrasounds and we both felt the movements. And my pregnancies were both desired, planned, and joyous events. They weren’t consequence free, though. Even “normal” uncomplicated pregnancies like mine trash your body in many ways that are unpredictable before you do it. It is not AT ALL like giving blood or marrow. Bodily autonomy cannot be separated from any thought of potential people.

    I also agree 100% with Amp – birth changes the equation, because bodily autonomy is no longer an issue. Also that this is an edge case, since the vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester. In the US many later abortions would also be first trimester if there weren’t so many restrictions on access. Really late term abortions (like post-viability) are almost always due to horrible fetal abnormalities or to protect the health of the pregnant person. If someone’s health can tolerate it, the doctors might be able to induce early labor/do a C-section for a viable fetus. Really late abortions and induced labor start out the same way. Also, I am sure somewhere there is an exception, but I think it would be really hard to find a doctor willing to do an abortion on demand at 28 weeks for a healthy parent with a healthy fetus.

    I do think parents of very low birth weight children should get to decide on how much intervention the hospital should do. And the decision to remove life support should be continue to be possible if the worst happens (like a massive brain bleed, or destruction of the intestines by infection or other truly awful complications of extreme prematurity). A friend whose wife had an incompetent cervix was told off the record that they should think hard about coming to the hospital if she started miscarrying between 23 and 25 weeks because at that point, state law required everything be done to save the baby regardless of its state of health at birth. And that the hospital would keep going until brain death regardless of the suffering or quality of life of the child.

    I do wonder what happens/will happen to premature babies whose parents don’t want to care for them especially in the post Roe v Wade era. In addition to high rates of maternal complications and infant death, the US also has an abnormally high rate of premature births compared to other wealthy nations. Can you terminate your parental rights if your baby is a 23 or 24-weeker in the NICU? If the outcome is poor (at least 25% of babies born that early have severe disabilities) and no parent volunteers to have their life revolve around such a child who will care for it? In the olden days, they warehoused severely disabled children in horrible institutions where many died young from the terrible conditions. Going back to that would NOT be an improvement over providing compassionate care to a dying newborn and doing minimal life saving interventions if that is what the parents choose.

  23. 23
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Corso – While I can see the emotional impact of your cousin’s story, it’s fundamentally different, because – reading between the lines – it’s pretty clear that your aunt wanted her pregnancy to succeed. And I am entirely in agreement that any pregnant person who wants their pregnancy to culminate successful has the right to all the medical and other support that can enable that. That’s true of the pregnancy at week 6, 24, or 39, because it’s not about the hypothethical rights of the unborn*. It’s about the actual right of the mother to have access to healthcare and make their own medical decisions.

    For me the ethical question is different. Specifically, if a pregnant person chooses to terminate a pregnacny that has advanced to a stage where the fetus is potentially viable, is it morally acceptable to force them to choose a method of termination that would maximize the chances of the fetus actually being born (e.g., in some cases, a ceasarian). And if that happens, what is the parent’s responsibility towards the now born child. Those are ethical questions I am conflicted about. But what matters there isn’t some sort of general question about accumulation of personhood. It’s about a case-by-case medical assessment about the viaiblity of a fetus at the point the decision is made and about what medical options are made available to a pregnant person.

    And no, neither Amp’s position or my own does not “pen the door to morality-free post birth abortions, at least in the case of premature births”, because the critical word is “birth”. Birth is absolute. Once a baby is born, it’s a baby, regardless of whether it is premature or whether it has disabilities, or what. And a baby is a person and has all the rights that come with that. There’s no “accumulation” of personhood, it’s binary. There’s non-personhood, pre-birth, and personhood, post-birth.

    * I’m using the term “unborn” as a cover term for zygote/blastocyst/embryo/fetus, not as a shorthand to “unborn child”, because “unborn child” is an oxymoron; to be a child, you have to been born.

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    I’m not clear on what point the 4th panel is trying to make. It seems to me that the father of a child would certainly be expected to support that child after he was born, and I don’t see any other male that the child would logically have a right to demand support from.

  25. 25
    Dianne says:

    Corso@21: I’m sorry if I implied that I thought you were engaging in cheap activism or virtue signaling. My point was that a lot of people high in the pro-life movement have no interest in actual live children, only in fetuses and I was speculating that that was because they want an object to champion who won’t ever talk back to them.

    I do NOT think that you are acting in this manner. You have demonstrated compassion for the living and I believe that your concerns do stem from genuine concerns.

    I don’t think there’s any inherent wrongness about wanting to minimize abortion because you aren’t sure whether the fetus is conscious or not and want to minimize the damage if they are. (If I am summarizing your position correctly. My apologies if I’m not.)

    The problem is that it is possible (again, not saying you’re doing this, just that it happens even with everyone having good intentions) to become so wrapped up in making sure that one injustice can’t possibly be occurring that one ignores and even encourages another injustice. Think about the Victorian aristocrats who were so concerned about a “lady” ever hearing anything sexual that they covered their table legs and called them “limbs” yet were willing to allow their sons to rape their maids and indeed considered it normal and even healthy for them to do so.

    Compassion for the possible life of a fetus needs to be balanced against the definite, clear risks to the pregnant person. If you can alleviate some of those risks and inconveniences, I think everyone would consider that a win.

    However, although I am glad to be alive, I consider the question of “what if your mother aborted you” to be rather nonsensical. If my mother had aborted fetus me, I would never have been had a conscious thought and that would be that. The same as if she had decided that getting pregnant 9 months before my birth was a bad plan and didn’t stop using birth control at that point. Or if she and my father had said, “meh” on their first date and never went out again. Or…you get the picture. It’s true that I am glad that my mother made the decision that she did. But if she’d decided to abort fetus me and get pregnant a year later, I’m sure that person would be happy to be alive too. And maybe they’d be a better person in some way. Possibly the world missed out by her decision to not have an abortion when pregnant with me. (OTOH, they might have been awful, so maybe the world dodged a bullet…no way to know.)

  26. 26
    Celeste says:

    I’m not clear on what point the 4th panel is trying to make. It seems to me that the father of a child would certainly be expected to support that child after he was born, and I don’t see any other male that the child would logically have a right to demand support from.

    It’s a joke about how pro-lifers believe that a fetus is the most important thing in the world (so important, in fact, that it’s worth forcing underage rape victims to carry that fetus to term), but after the child is born, they don’t seem to give much of a fuck about it, its survival, or its quality of life.

    In other words, as is usual for pro-lifers and conservatives, there is no cost too great for them to insist someone else bear it, and no cost too minor for them to accept the social need to contribute themselves.

  27. 27
    Celeste says:

    In other words, as is usual for pro-lifers and conservatives, there is no cost too great for them to insist someone else bear it, and no cost too minor for them to accept the social need to contribute themselves.

    To piggyback on my own comment, see also all the studies showing that the single most effective way to reduce abortion is to offer free universal birth control (reduces the abortion rate 62 to 78% according to a Washington University School of Medicine study – https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/access-to-free-birth-control-reduces-abortion-rates/), and yet conservative voters are hugely opposed.

    Why?

    Well because forcing a pregnant underage rape victim to bear her rapist’s child is free to them, but providing free universal birth control might make their taxes go up a few bucks. Hardly the behavior of a group of people who believe ending abortion is the highest moral imperative. But of course, no cost is too high to force someone else to pay.

  28. 28
    linnen says:

    Corso @14;
    Positing that an expectant mother that has _willingly_ carried a embryo for 23 week, 6 day, and 23 hours suddenly change her mind at the 24th hour is such an extreme case, that you might as well add “and we all get a pony” to the end of it. It only exists in the fever’d dreams of the forced-labour crowd.

    Dianne @15 and @ 20 said it much better than I can, but here are some additional thoughts that I offer for your consideration.
    – “Action X (unwanted pregnancy / life-support for important person / organ or blood donation) cannot be legally forced, but is morally right.” I’ve yet to hear or read a reason about moral rightness other than because. And that ‘because’ is the lever that moves the dial from ‘cannot be legal’ to ‘can be legal’. That ‘because’ is the linchpin that it is morally right to force an action even if it is not legal.
    – A literary society that has forced child bearing (Laudry File’s The Apocalypse Codex) or organ donation (Niven’s Flatlander series) are not utopias. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a gut punch for a reason.

  29. 29
    Corso says:

    linnen @ 28

    Positing that an expectant mother that has _willingly_ carried a embryo for 23 week, 6 day, and 23 hours suddenly change her mind at the 24th hour is such an extreme case, that you might as well add “and we all get a pony” to the end of it. It only exists in the fever’d dreams of the forced-labour crowd.

    Well… Two things:

    First; If a child is that premature, there’s all kinds of risk factors for future disability or illness. If a mother planned to carry to term, but delivered 12 weeks early, I can think of reasonable situations where she might want to consider the abortion.

    Second; Morality isn’t determined by likelihood. An energy company building a giant saucer in the sky to block the light of the sun from an area for no reason other than to force the people living in that area to buy more electricity is immoral, even if it’s not going to happen anywhere outside an episode of The Simpsons. The likelihood might be material if you’re considering policy, but only “might” because rights generally (with some current glaring exceptions, I know) have some pretty strong protections. Regardless, seeing as everyone here, I think, agrees that abortion should be legal, this isn’t a policy discussion.

    “Action X (unwanted pregnancy / life-support for important person / organ or blood donation) cannot be legally forced, but is morally right.” I’ve yet to hear or read a reason about moral rightness other than because. And that ‘because’ is the lever that moves the dial from ‘cannot be legal’ to ‘can be legal’. That ‘because’ is the linchpin that it is morally right to force an action even if it is not legal.

    Sorry, but I’m having a hard time reading your response charitably. Do you need me to explain to you why saving someone’s life is morally right?

    Let’s make a trolley exercise out of it! I’ve just finished bingeing The Good Place, and it came up last time, so it’s stuck in my head.

    A trolley is barreling down a track, on the track is a person. The trolley is headed for that person and will surely kill them! But there’s a button in front of you, and if you push that button, the trolley will divert to a different track, and into a pile of pillows, which will also cause the least damage to the crashing car. What do you do?

    I’d hope most people would push the button because we realize that saving someone’s life is probably a good thing.

    It scales from there… The costs and risks mentioned, the theoretical blood disease, the burden pregnancy places on the body, maternal mortality risks these are all variations on the exercise, and those variations might color the morality of the actions. Sure, as Dianne said @15 you might not be able to donate blood because you have a blood disease. Sure, as Kate said @12, you might not be able to carry your pregnancy to term because the risks to your life are intolerable…. These are all great reasons why you might not push that button. And in those cases, choosing to save your own life or not take on someone else’s burden doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person… It depends. But like Kate also said @ 12 (and I’m paraphrasing) depending on how much risk is involved, taking that risk on could be heroic.

    And it’s hard to argue that heroism is anything but good.

  30. 30
    linnen says:

    Corso:
    First part. There are solid medical reasons for an early termination of a pregnancy. That is why it is called early termination of a pregnancy. Abortion (and D&C, just to be complete) only comes into play at this point when the fetus cannot be carried to term for medical reasons. Having the mother all of a sudden decide to terminate a healthy pregnancy at 24 weeks out of the blue was all you.
    And where does likelihood come in wrt. morality?

    But there’s a button in front of you, and if you push that button, the trolley will divert to a different track, and into a pile of pillows, which will also cause the least damage to the crashing car.

    *blink-blink*
    But of course you misstate the ‘trolley problem’ ethics formulation. Thanks for letting us know how you are about other people’s choices..

  31. 31
    Dianne says:

    I”m going to drop this here and suggest to Corso that they* don’t go all in is because they’re not the sort of person who would force this on someone?

    *Sorry but if you’ve declared your gender I missed it.

  32. 32
    Dianne says:

    If a mother planned to carry to term, but delivered 12 weeks early, I can think of reasonable situations where she might want to consider the abortion.

    You can’t have an abortion after delivery. You can terminate parental rights and if the person staring at the baby thinks that they can’t handle parenting the child, maybe they’d do that. (Very rare.) You can also withdraw care if you consider the situation hopeless. Some parents of extreme premies do that and although I expect some people judge them for that, the decision hasn’t become an issue that legislatures generally get too involved with. Certainly not one that they campaign on. Except if the birth is the result of an abortion that went wrong. Then they feel comfortable forcing the parent to make sure that “everything is done”, no matter how poor the likely outcome. But a run of the mill early delivery, particularly one that could have been prevented with good prenatal care? All yawn. Which is why I find myself tempted to make unfair overgeneralizations like “no one who is against abortion actually cares about babies or fetuses”.

  33. 33
    Görkem says:

    “taking that risk on could be heroic… And it’s hard to argue that heroism is anything but good.”

    Generally the law does not compel people to do “heroic” things.

  34. 34
    nobody.really says:

    Amp’s Cartoon: Abortion Should Be Decided By The States ends with the following:

    CAPTION: Ten minutes after Roe is overturned.
    MAN: Our new law bans abortion nationwide.
    WOMAN: Abortion’s too important to be left to the states!

    This entire premise was, of course, absurd. It took until today for Republicans to propose the ban.

    I’m reminded of 2004’s The SpongeBob Movie:

    Attendant #1: You two dipsticks [referring to SpongeBob and Patrick] wouldn’t last ten seconds over the county line!

    SpongeBob: Oh, yeah? We’ll just see about that. [They drive over the county line. A thief stops them.]

    Thief: Out of the car, fellas. [Thief drives off with car.]

    SpongeBob: How many seconds was that?

    Attendant #2: Uh … twelve.

    SpongeBob and Patrick, triumphantly to Attendant #1: In your face!

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