Monday, February 05, 2007

Abortion: Foundations of a Discussion

[Crossposted from Street Prophets]

I really haven't fully blogged on abortion - because it is one of my brain cramps. It is a brain cramp because nearly every woman in my immediate, and married family, has had experiences with abortion:

  • My mother was engaged to be married right after WWII, and her finance drowned one week before the wedding - leaving her pregnant. She had an abortion from a medical student in Texas - the eventual state of Roe v Wade. If she hadn't, she would have never met my father, they never would have married, and I and my three sisters wouldn't be here. Of course, at least one other would be.

  • Two (I know of - maybe all three) of my three sisters had abortions

  • One spouse went in, under severe pressure from the father of the child, and her own father, to have an abortion. The abortion clinic sent her away because her reasons were all wrong. Her daughter is now on her way to the Persian Gulf on the John Stennis - and she is a strong beautiful woman.

  • An older family member had an abortion sandwiched between two of her 5 other children because she felt it was financially undoable to have a child at that point. She is still not sure of heaven because of that - a true pity for a very Godly woman.
There really isn't a Biblical case against, or for, abortion - although I think this paragraph from Wiki deals with this well:
Such passages of the Bible are not taken in a proof-text manner by Christian tradition (that is, they are applicable to the question, although they do not mention abortion), but as illustrations of a basic ethical principle of the created order — a unity of instruction, or "world-view". And this provides for a syllogism, which forms the basis of the modern Christian pro-life movement. Scripture condemns the shedding of innocent human blood. The biblical insight into the order of things is that man is distinct from, and above an animal; and man is uniquely subject to God, whereas animals are given to man; and an unborn child is human and known to God. Therefore, even an unborn child is protected by God, as made in the image of God because it is human (an issue distinct from all speculations of when life begins).
Up until recently, however, I have not made a "religious" argument on abortion - I have stuck to a secular one.

However, that is two posts away. This post is the first of two on how we (badly) argue this issue; and what I see the core question of the discussion should be. The latter will come first in this diary, followed by some arguments that, IMHO, should be scrapped immediately by those that use them - that is, if pro-life and pro-choice folk actually have any desire to stop talking past each other; and find ways to reduce abortions in the US. Incidentally, that is on the agenda: almost every poll that phrases it that way shows that while maybe a third (at most) of the population want abortions to be illegal, two-thirds want it reduced and/or restricted from its present level. At this point after 30 years of debate, making abortion illegal is really off the table; but so is unrestricted access.

There were a few stories/diaries/posts that clicked together to produce the impetus for this diary. One of those was "Dignity as a Litmus Test: Why I'm a Single Issue Voter" where Joe Carter quotes David Gushee's definition of sanctity of life:
The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.
I think folks who read this will generally agree with this definition unless they react to who said it and where it came from (one of those bad things about how we argue). The bold face words in the quote are, of course, key: the definition of human being as it relates to embryos, fetuses, and abortion. Few who read this will agree that indeed embryos and fetuses represent human beings in the sense Gushee means; and then say it is cool that 1,200,000 a year are killed. So, while the first thing the discussion can concentrate on is the "sanctity of life" statement above - the next is this statement from Don Marquis from his seminal (according to Wiki - download here):
Many of the most insightful and careful writers on the ethics of abortion-such as Joel Feinberg, Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren, H. Tristram Engel¬hardt, Jr., L. W. Sumner, John T. Noonan, Jr., and Philip Devine — believe that
whether or not abortion is morally permissible stands or falls on whether or not a fetus is the sort of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end.
I think that this is the core question and that your answer - yes or no - will be the basis of your position on abortion. If it is no, then abortion is a medical question between a woman, the father (if he is available and cares), and the doctor; and there is no moral content to this decision at all. If it is yes, then the ending the lives of 1,200,000 beings whose lives are seriously wrong to end is a moral question of huge proportions - and certainly not just the business of the woman, the man, and the doctor. Is this the core question? Discuss that below.

The whole abortion debate, and abortion law, revolves around where in the development of a human being - from fetus to 1st grade - the line is crossed between a being whose life it is not seriously wrong to end, and one's whose life is seriously wrong to end. I will look at the state of those arguments in the next diary. The rest of this diary assumes Marquis's statement of the core question is correct; and looks at some really bad sidetracks to this discussion I would love to see never be mentioned again in the debate (but have no expectation will not be)
  1. Abortion will never be illegal in the US; nor will it ever be unrestricted: As mentioned above, 2/3 of the country think abortions are out of hand - and Roe v Wade did not legalize abortion in the US:
    Before Roe, many states had already moved to modify abortion prohibitions. By 1973, four states had totally repealed their anti-abortion laws. Thirteen states had adopted the "Model Penal Code on Abortion" proposed by the American Law Institute (ALI). This Model Penal Code, drafted in 1962, provided abortion should remain legal whenever the woman's life or health is at risk, when pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or when the fetus had a severe defect. By 1973, all but five states had either amended their abortion laws or had pending legislation to do so. -- Kurt Entsminger
    nor would repeal of Roe and Casey end abortion in the US
    . . . If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the regulation of abortion will revert to the 50 individual states. Those who envision reversal of Roe as a great panacea for ending the abortion tragedy will be sadly disappointed. There will be no automatic legal protection granted to unborn children by a reversal of Roe.

    Even the most conservative Supreme Court justices have refused to recognize that unborn children are persons within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Nor is it likely that strict abortion prohibitions will suddenly re-emerge. Instead, in a post-Roe era, the political landscape involving abortion across the United States will be far more complicated.

    In many key states, we should sadly but realistically expect abortion laws to remain unchanged. These states have adopted public policies through legislation and judicial rulings that evidence a strong commitment to uphold legalized abortion on demand regardless of the disposition of Roe vs. Wade. Two of such states are New York and California, in which nearly 400,000 abortions are performed yearly. This represents almost 40 percent of all annual abortions in the United States . . .
    Deflection of the discussion from the core question above to legality/illegality is, to me, a strawman.

  2. Christians, at least, should not be attempting to make abortion illegal: This will make me popular in my conservative Christian crowd :-). Even though I answer the core question with a "yes"; the country is almost exactly split 50/50 on this issue. I think it is time for Christians who believe abortion is immoral to concentrate their considerable muscle on making abortion unchosen and not illegal. The point of Christ's coming and dying was that Mosaic Law could not make us moral or obedient - neither will human law. J. Budziszewski:
    Christianity is not a legislative religion . . . It is not even true that all of God's commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder . . . But the latter precept requires a good deal of watering down in the public square, for before the coming of Christ not even believers were expected to understand the true nature of marriage . . . No doubt the Pharisees to whom He was speaking were scandalized by the idea that their civil law did not reflect God's standards fully. They must have been even more offended by the suggestion that it was not intended to. Among religious conservatives this suggestion is still a scandal, but it does not come from liberals; it comes from the Master . . . The civil law will be Christian - if it still exists at all - only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.
    Budziszewski mentions his comfort with opposing abortion as part of opposing murder; but that again comes back to the core question above - is the embryo/fetus the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end. The 50/50 split in the country means this issue is closer to the marriage part of his argument above than the murder part.

  3. The core question is not a "woman's right to choose" or the "right to privacy": Let me be clear here. Since abortion is never going to be illegal in the US it is going to be a woman's choice. However, again, if you answer the question above "no" then there is no moral issue in abortion - other than perhaps the inclusion of your spouse, or significant other, in the decision. Does any married woman reading this think you could go down to the abortion clinic and end a pregnancy without involving your husband in the decision? While the abortion may have no moral content, the betrayal of your spouse certainly does. Even if the father of the child is not married to the woman getting the abortion, if they are still an active couple then this is a joint decision on almost any planet.

    If your answer to the core question above is "yes" - then in what other area of life do we allow one person to have the absolute decision to end the life of a being whose life it is seriously wrong to end? There is no such area.

    Similarly, the Supreme Court in Roe and Casey recognized that the right to privacy and choice ended at the point where the fetus might be a being whose life is seriously wrong to end. In Roe these rights were only unfettered for the first trimester and non-existent in the third - during the second the state had limited rights to stick their nose into the issue. Casey dropped the trimester structure and simplified to the question of viability alone - the right to abortion ended when the fetus was viable. Incidentally, the record for a child surviving after a severely premature birth was a birth in the 19th week in 1972.

  4. This is not a "woman's issue", and women are not the only ones that should have an opinion: A "yes" answer to the core question makes this a societal problem that involves the deaths of 1,200,000 beings whose lives are seriously wrong to end; and not about some male chauvinist's attempts to control the sexuality of women. While a "no" answer may lead to that conclusion; it ignores that by at least one pro-choice managed poll over half of all women in the US consider themselves pro-life. If it doesn't ignore that, it denigrates those women as quislings dominated and brain-washed by male chauvinists. I can hardly think of a more anti-woman attitude than that last one. Women are just as divided on this issue as men; and if abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral then it is a societal/cultural problem involving men and women - all of whom must agree to act to truly make abortion "safe, legal and rare".

  5. Abortion, the death penalty, and war are not the same issue - stop deflecting : All of these issue have different problems associated with them, and we will never discuss any of them intelligently if we sound like small children defending our theft of our siblings toy because they stole one of ours last week

  6. Be Consistent: One of my doubts about the "safe, legal, rare" line current in the Democratic Party is that I do not trust it. I agree with it; but do not trust those that speak it. I am not alone. Another story this week that helped start this post: Illinois Choose Life won its right to a specialty "Choose Life" license plate in Illinois.
    The benefits of the Choose Life license plate are the opportunities created to encourage and assist adoption of children in Illinois. The funds generated from sales of the Choose Life license plate will become available to homes for unwed mothers, pregnancy help centers, adoption agencies, and organizations that provide help for foster and special needs children.
    This is a conservative-supported cause; and it has been opposed by much of the pro-choice movement in Illinois. Barack Obama said:
    If we're going to be promoting one view of the abortion debate, then the other one has to be expressed as well, and we don't want license plates to suddenly become bulletin boards for political groups.
    Pro-choice folks have said these plates are "anti-choice". Now, pro-choice legislators in Illinois are trying to dump the entire specialty plate system to prevent this one from being available. One commenter asked the obvious question: if the pro-choice's slogan of "legal, safe and rare" is heartfelt - how can they oppose as "anti-choice" a license plate that encourages adoption and helps fund agencies that are involved in improving adoption services? Obviously, one key element in "safe, legal, rare" is adequate funding, and reform, of adoption services. If there is going to be a "meeting in the middle" on abortion - it is efforts like this that must be supported even if you dislike the general views of the sponsors.
That probably gives us a few things to talk about before the next post in the series - which will deal with the biology (when life begins) and personhood/sentience arguments used to define when a being is the kind of life it is seriously wrong to end.

Next: Talking Past the "Other"

1 comment:

  1. I got as far as # 2 and started saying, "yes! Yes! YES!" to my computer. Along with #3, I believe the Christian's responsibility is to provide better, more informed choices. I think the new strategy of telling stories of women who regret their abortion is a good example. This is an excellent post. Thank you for taking on such a volatile subject.


How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly