The hole in Amanda Marcotte\’s argument

I will give her this: her writing has improved immensely. However, perhaps not her logic:

The answer goes back to the fundamental disagreement between pro- and anti-choicers on what men back in the day called \”the Woman Question\”: that is, \”What are women for?\” Sadly, as recently as 2012, conservative commentator James Poulos insisted on framing the question of women\’s rights in just this way, saying if we could just get to the mystery of what women are \”for\”, then we\’ll know how many rights they should be allowed to have.

For pro-choicers, the answer to this question is obvious: women aren\’t \”for\” anything, and the question itself dehumanizes women, positioning them as objects to be used instead of people in their own right. Like men, we\’re not the means to the end, but the end. Thus, we conclude, women have a right to self-determination.

We can rewrite the paragraph thus:

The answer goes back to the fundamental disagreement between pro- and anti-choicers on what men back in the day called \”the Foetus Question\”: that is, \”What are foetii for?\” Sadly, as recently as 2012, someone insisted on framing the question of foetus\’s rights in just this way, saying if we could just get to the mystery of what foetii are \”for\”, then we\’ll know how many rights they should be allowed to have.

For pro-lifers, the answer to this question is obvious: foetii aren\’t \”for\” anything, and the question itself dehumanizes the foetus, positioning them as objects to be used instead of people in their own right. Like men, they\’re not the means to the end, but the end. Thus, we conclude, foetii have a right to life.

As ever on this subject I don\’t expect many to agree with me. I wouldn\’t insist that I agree with the above statement myself. Indeed, I can think of ways of making holes in that argument myself.

My point is only that the logic being advanced just isn\’t the slam dunk that the person advancing it seems to think it is.

The argument for and or against abortion rests on one fundamental point, as it always has done and as it always will. Either the foetus is a person with rights, in which case there is a conflict beween the rights of said foetus and the mother, or it is not a person and thus has no more rights than the cat\’s latest litter of unwanted kittens and thus there is no conflict of rights.

The middle path that it is a potential person and thus has a limited set of rights is just a fudge. A useful fudge, the one that we actually use in this real world to be sure, but it is a fudging of the basic underlying argument.

Yes, of course you can kill a not human being at the desire of that not human being\’s owner. Vets put down animals all the time and butchers\’ shops the world over are full of the product of farming.

We generally say that you may only kill a human being in either immediate self-defence or during a Just War. We\’ve certainly several centuries worth (more like a millennia\’s in fact) discussion of what those two actually mean.

Even the Catholic Church accepts the immediate self-defence argument (under the cloak of treatment to save a mother\’s life which happens to kill the child but not a direct and sole attempt to do so) and it would be very difficult indeed to shoehorn abortion into the requirements of a Just War.

(BTW, just for clarity, yes, this argument does mean that capital punishment is immoral, not allowed, for the adult being executed is most certainly a human being.)

Which leaves us just with that remaining question. Human or not? Not? Vacuum away. Human? Killer!

48 comments on “The hole in Amanda Marcotte\’s argument

  1. Red herring here (or possibly a straw man):

    “in which case there is a conflict beween the rights of said foetus and the mother”

    There can be no conflict between the rights of two individuals; if conflict exists, we are not looking at genuine rights. My (genuine) right to free expression permits me to describe you however I wish because no direct harm is done to you, but it does not extend to punching you in the nose as this would contravene your (genuine) rights. Further, a genuine right cannot impose an obligation on another. Hence the “right” to survival of a foetus, which survives solely as a result of the physical functions of its mother, cannot be allowed to conflict with the genuine rights of that mother.

  2. Also, Marcotte’s argument might carry a bit more weight if the feminist movement hadn’t spent its history being utilitarian about what men are “for”; “like a fish needs a bicycle” and all that.

    An individualist libertarian position specifically doesn’t ask this question, because each person is “for” themself, and does not need to justify their existence to anyone else. We don’t ask what women are for, or men are for, or babies are for, or old people are for. People simply are and thus have automatically attached rights.

    Nobody is “for” anything. We all exist by the luck of the draw, and nobody “needs” to have existed in any other justifying context. It is Progressives who are constantly asking what people are for and discovering, quelle suprise, that people aren’t for anything, and thus conclude they have no particular rights to exist; leading eventually to positions like Deep Ecology that denies that anyone should exist at all.

  3. A simpler question: is ithe foetus alive? If you accept it’s alive (and how could you not; the debate over what constitutes a living organism usually hovers around viruses, which are vastly simpler than humans ever are, ever at the human moment of conception), then what kind of creature is it? It is human, of course. A discrete, unique, human being, i.e. a ‘person’, albeit at a very early stage of its existence.

    If our lives were measured not from our ‘birth day’s (a crude hang-over, surely, from the time when we didn’t understand reproductive biology), but from moment we really enter into existence – conception – perhaps the debate about abortion would be clearer.

  4. @ Ian Bennett

    ” Hence the “right” to survival of a foetus, which survives solely as a result of the physical functions of its mother, cannot be allowed to conflict with the genuine rights of that mother.”

    So that means that abortion should be legal right up until birth, no?

  5. Without wishing to get mired in an argument about abortion, I’d take issue with the rather binary person/non-person assertion you make. I think the ‘useful fudge’ isn’t reflecting muddied think or pragmatism but rather real facts about the world.

    From conception to birth a single cell over time achieves personhood; that’s a continuum unless you adopt the Catholic position that a fertilised single cell is a person – which it clearly isn’t – or some extreme ‘pro-choice’ argument that an unborn child right up to the moment of birth is not a person, which it clearly is.

    There isn’t a single moment where something that is not a person becomes suddenly a person. This makes for difficult law, difficult moral choices and difficult decisions. That’s the real world, yes, and it’s not a ‘fudge’.

  6. Dwight, no, just until it’s capable of eating, drinking, breathing and defecating independently of its mother, and after that only if the mother’s health is at risk.

  7. To concentrate on the important question here: in Latin the plural of fetus is fetus. In English it’s fetuses. (If fetus were a second declension noun, which it isn’t, the Latin plural would be *feti). I quite understand that achieving global Scandium oligopoly is more important than mastering Latin declensions, but that would seem to be all the more reason not to attempt them.

    (“Fetus” is the Latin word, “foetus” is an invented English spelling.)

  8. Ian Bennett: ” There can be no conflict between the rights of two individuals; if conflict exists, we are not looking at genuine
    rights.”

    That’s the sort of trite and naive statement that makes intelligent people dismiss libertarians as pointless whiners. As a libertarian myself, that’s rather irritating.

  9. Ian,
    for the doctor having to decide whether the baby is capable of eating, breathing etc. would be difficult – there would be so many uncertainties and best-guesses. so it would almost certainly result in some healthy, survivable babies being killed. Many that’s the price we have to pay because the alternative is worse, but still.

    what with advances in medicine, the point at which a baby/foetus could survive outside the womb is going to get earlier and earlier.

    When the boffins have created a petridish in which a 10 week old foetus can survive and develop, should abortions after that stage be banned? Genuine question.

  10. PaulB, I understood that English was the language of choice here.

    Matthew L, please explain how my genuine right can conflict with your genuine right. If there’s “something that I’m allowed to have”, how can it prevent you from having “something that you’re allowed to have”?

    Dwight, your notional petri dish may enable the foetus to survive – albeit with extensive intervention – but it would not enable it to function independently.

  11. I think David Jones has it correct. The development of a new human is a continuum from conception to emergence and there is no objective mechanism to determine at what point on this continuum the developing child achieves “human” i.e protected status. Science is not useful here because whatever scientific test you choose such as “viability outside the womb” becomes a moveable point as scientific advances take place rf Dwights Petri dish problem.

    The only logical starting point for determining “human” status is the Roman Catholic one. Before conception no humanity (although eggs and sperm are independently still part of different human beings) after conception a new human(with rights!) exists.

    However logic isn’t the only show in town and therefore we adopt a pragmatic approach which allows us to assuage our moral sensibilities by determining a socially acceptable and arbitrary cutoff point. Before 24 weeks not human and foetus has no rights, after 24 weeks this is a human being that shall not be murdered.

    However, because this is controversial and the decision point is arbitrary arguments will continue…….

  12. There isn’t a single moment where something that is not a person becomes suddenly a person. This makes for difficult law, difficult moral choices and difficult decisions. That’s the real world, yes, and it’s not a ‘fudge’.

    This.

  13. That’s the sort of trite and naive statement that makes intelligent people dismiss libertarians as pointless whiners. As a libertarian myself, that’s rather irritating.

    This.

  14. Re science and logic: There are a myriad movable and subjective factors that confuse the ‘acceptable point’ position about mid-term abortions precisely because the pro-abortion argument shuns logic. Either one accepts the simple and rationally inescapable ‘Catholic’ [I am an agnostic, and not a Catholic] conclusion that the moment of conception marks the point at which a human being/’person’/new life is created, and that therefore deliberately terminating that existence from that point onward is homicide, or one starts advocating ‘fudge’, introducing nit-picking and semantic muddle, either deliberatley or as a result of one’s own confusion, which reduces debate on this issue to mud wrestling.

    A bit of logic resolves this matter pretty clearly.

  15. In said petri-dish, the foetus could survive

    “…albeit with extensive intervention…” – so exactly like a baby then.

    “…but it would not enable it to function independently.” I’m not entirely sure what that means.

    Originally you said that the foetus could be aborted “until it’s capable of eating, drinking, breathing and defecating independently *of its mother*”

    In the petri-dish it is independent of its mother.

  16. Ian Bennett:

    “A genuine right cannot impose an obligation on another.”

    Your right to free expression imposes an obligation on the rest of us to defend you if someone wants to silence you. Think of Salman Rushdie or Kurt Westergaard.

    I believe in the right of the Falkland Islanders to choose their national affiliation – but it clearly imposes a massive obligation on the rest of us to defend that right.

  17. The difficulty deciding the priority of competing ‘rights’ indicates there actually ain’t no such animal, except in the, purely intellectual, legal sense.
    There is no moral right to life. To claim a legal right to life, there has to be an independent functioning individual to claim that legal right. But that individual can’t claim a moral right to life. If that individual is floating in mid-Atlantic, wandering in the middle of the Sahara, freezing on the Antarctic icecap, no amount of claiming of ‘rights’ will save that individual from dying.
    What we have are obligations as members of what we hope is a moral society. What obligations we take on depend on what we choose to take on. The obligations to the foetus are primarily the mother’s because it is her body that sustains the life of the foetus, modified by the obligations the society feels it has to the continuance of the life of that foetus & where it feels it compel the mother to discharge obligations that may be against her will.
    Sorry, but in the ‘right to life’ argument, your not ‘giving’ anything but taking it away.

  18. bloke in spain

    I think what you mean is, rights can only exist in a society. A lone individual in a Robinson Crusoe situation has no rights, just possibilities or the lack of them. If that’s what you mean, I agree.

    Not every moral issue is purely a matter of rights. The ultimate right is the right to vote; we allow mothers over 18 to vote, but we clearly can’t allow foetuses to vote. That doesn’t mean the fate of the fetus is a moral non-issue. Ditto with “animal rights”. We can’t give animals “rights” as such. But this doesn’t mean we’re wrong to use the law to restrict people’s rights to behave cruelly towards animals.

  19. Taking IanB’s point a bit further – we all, actually, have multiple roles where we are “for” something – as a partner, a parent, a global scandium oligopolist. Some of these we can choose, some we can’t, some we are notionally free to choose but are actually forced in to by circumstance.

    In that context, “woman”, as opposed to “person who happens to be female”, you have defined what they are for. Womb and breasts. With the latter considerably supplanted by technology. You can make exactly the same argument for “man” as opposed to “person who happens to be male.”

    The problem comes is that there were and still are many people, both male and female, who see “woman” as not just the defining but the only role that female people are to be permitted. And that the feminists insist on treating all men as if they held that view.

  20. Dwight

    Good point.

    Scientific advances are changing the moral calculation all the time. (e.g. What’s the definition of death? Brain stem death? Is this person in Persistent Vegetative State dead? We thought they were, but new evidence suggests they may not be…)

    The Feminist Fundamentalist argument is that a woman must have total sovereignty over her womb; she therefore has the right to evict a fetus whenever she choses. Personally I’ve always had a problem with the idea a fetus is no more than an uninvited organism squatting in the woman’s womb, like a tapeworm. But clearly, improved medical viability outside the womb is changing the facts. Removal of the fetus from the womb may not mean its death…

    Tim adds: Sorta true: for the meaning of abortion is not the killing of the fetus but its deliberate removal from the womb before term.

    Artificial wombs, strictly speaking, would mke no difference at all to hte abortion debate: but they would to the death of the fetus debate.

  21. georgesdelatour: “Your right to free expression imposes an obligation on the rest of us to defend you if someone wants to silence you.”

    No, it really doesn’t. The only requirement is that you not act to deny my rights.

    May I clarify my original comment to say, “a genuine right cannot impose an obligation to act on another”. If you consider rights to be important, you would probably act to defend them, but you’re certainly under no obligation to do so.

  22. There can be no conflict between the rights of two individuals; if conflict exists, we are not looking at genuine rights. My (genuine) right to free expression permits me to describe you however I wish because no direct harm is done to you, but it does not extend to punching you in the nose as this would contravene your (genuine) rights.

    The notion of ‘conflict’ arises from ‘contravening’ or ‘competing’ freedoms and rights.

  23. ukliberty: As I replied to MatthewL earlier, if there’s “something that I’m allowed to have”, how can it prevent you from having “something that you’re allowed to have”? Forcibly stopping me from speaking contravenes my rights, but arguing the opposing position -and having the right to do so – does not.

    May I also clarify my previous comment: “The only requirement is that you not act to prevent me from exercising my rights.”

  24. georgesdelatour
    Again the conflation of legal rights with moral obligations.
    An 18yo mother’s ‘right’ to vote is a purely legal matter. A few decades ago she wouldn’t have had the vote due to her age. A few decades more & she wouldn’t because of her sex. Even further back the ‘right’ would have depended on property ownership or not existed at all. All of those states would have agreed with the legal position at the time & were argued as being morally correct. The point I’m trying to make is her ‘right’ to vote depends, not on her claim to the privilege, but whether the society extends it to her.
    In the particular case of the foetus’s ‘right to life’ how can the obligation to preserve it exist when for a considerable period after conception the mother won’t even be aware of it’s existence? It’s not that rare a mother going almost all the way to childberth without being aware of a pregnancy. So if she indulges in an activity that hazards the existence of the foetus during that period, she denies the ‘rights to life’ of the foetus? How can she discharge an obligation she doesn’t know she has?
    Hence my Robinson Crusoe scenario. I can’t have an obligation to save a drowning man I don’t know exists.

  25. Let’s try & take this further. What you’re having here is a theological debate. Does a foetus have a ‘soul’ & does this soul come into existence at conception or at some other point. And if so when.
    In the absence of a ‘soul’ you’re only left ‘self awareness’ & does a new born human have any more self awareness than a kitten? On that basis infantacide’s moral.
    The only way to have a rational, non theological, discussion about ‘right to life’ is to remove the foetus from the loop altogether. It’s purely a matter of defining the obligations of reasoning individuals. We certainly don’t have a problem with this principle in other areas, hence the restriction of criminal responsibilities to those who are capable of understanding them.

  26. Ian,
    your argument is (and please correct me if I’m wrong)

    1. The mother has a *genuine* right of absolute control over her own body. She has no duty of care for the foetus growing inside her.
    2. The foetus has no rights.
    3. At some point when the foetus/baby would capable enough of “independent” life, the mother loses that *genuine* right and the baby gains a *genuine* right to life (with your qualification about the mother’s health)

    If that does broadly summarize your argument, once the baby gains this “genuine” right, does that not impose on the mother the obligation to (say) not drink 2 bottles of vodka a day?

  27. Dwight, your summary is broadly correct. If you disagree, perhaps you would explain at what point the foetus does acquire rights. At conception? At implantation?

    The mother has the obligation not to harm her child, as has everyone. If she can drink 2 bottles of vodka and fulfil this obligation, fine. Chances are, of course, that she couldn’t.

    bloke in spain, before we ask when the soul comes into existence, surely we have to show that such a thing exists at all.

  28. “bloke in spain, before we ask when the soul comes into existence, surely we have to show that such a thing exists at all.”
    Precisely.
    So let’s not.

  29. Sorry, hit the send too soon.

    If you accept the existence of a soul then the concept of legal responsibility goes down the pan. A soul couldn’t be judged insane, only evil.

  30. Ian,
    I saw a description of the British attitude to abortion being “they don’t like it but they don’t want to ban it” which most of the time describes me.
    Your decision to grant or see or will into being rights only once a kind of biological independence has been reached seems to be just as good or bad (and ultimately as arbitrary) as choosing the capacity to feel pain or whether fingernails have started growing.

    Blokeinspain gave the example of
    “[a womans] ‘right’ to vote depends, not on her claim to the privilege, but whether the society extends it to her.” Rights don’t just exist hanging in the sky. We sign up because we think they’ll help us live marginally happier or easier lives.

    I don’t know when the foetus does acquire rights. (I take part in these discussions to see if something will help me decide.) But it is *growing* – it is on the cusp of joining us. And the fact that it is on its way to joining us seems important. Think of the agonies that we go thru when deciding to switch off a machine maintaing a person in a vegatative state. Foetus are going the other way.

    I’m with Polly Toynbee and the Pope on this, that the only things that are not arbitrary are conception and birth, tho’ frankly I dislike the consequences of this fact – either allow abortion up to birth or don’t allow them at all.

  31. I think there’s some confusion between rights and entitlements, or more probably about how we use those terms. In my view, rights are naturally-occurring (that is to say, they exist by virtue of our nature), while entitlements are assigned by political decree (and can be removed similarly). A rights are the right to take a certain action, which must not infringe the rights of others. Further, one person’s rights cannot impose unasked obligations of action on another person.

    But I think we’re straying too far off Tim’s topic.

    I confess that I’m unlikely to agree with Polly or the Pope on anything much.

  32. Ian Bennett, my point is – and I wish I had phrased it this way – is that in this context “conflict” is synonymous with “compete” and “contravene”. When the exercise of a freedom or right collides with someone else’s freedom or right, that is where the conflict arises – where we must ‘weigh’ the competing interests to reach a just outcome.

    You said, “There can be no conflict between the rights of two individuals; if conflict exists, we are not looking at genuine rights.”

    If someone exercises his freedom of expression and protests on the public highway this exercise of freedom will be in conflict with the freedom of the users of the public highway, won’t?

  33. “Rights don’t just exist hanging in the sky. We sign up because we think they’ll help us live marginally happier or easier lives.”
    On the contrary, rights in the absolute sense don’t exist at all. What we sign up to is the obligations we have to others. Them signing up gives us what you’re calling rights.

  34. ukliberty, yes it would, in the same way that my freedom to punch ends where your nose begins. This is why the freedom to protest is a right, but the freedom to obstruct the highway is not. No-one is harmed by protest, but they may be harmed by obstruction.

  35. David Jones – “There isn’t a single moment where something that is not a person becomes suddenly a person. This makes for difficult law, difficult moral choices and difficult decisions. That’s the real world, yes, and it’s not a ‘fudge’.”

    Really? Let me introduce you to the case of Jessica Jane – a 19 week foetus who survived her abortion and was left to die in a dish 80 minutes later:

    http://www.nt.gov.au/justice/courtsupp/coroner/findings/other/babyj.pdf

    Obviously I think most people would say that when she was born, alive, she was a person. The coroner had some doubts about that because he was not sure if he had jurisdiction or not. He said he did. The law says that before she was born, she was not a person. The transition was short, clear and well defined.

    It does not make for difficult law or for difficult decisions or even difficult moral choices. It is just hard to reconcile what most people want – to fit in, to allow the cheap and easy solution in the hard cases, to support women’s rights – with what most of us find abhorrent. It is not that the issue is complicated. It is that most people are cowards. They need to take Polly’s position or the Pope’s. Anything else is just childish.

  36. SMFS: I can’t see why this is important to you, but you’ve misled us about the gestational age of the baby, which according to evidence at the inquest was about 22 weeks.

  37. Does the individual desires or beliefs matter. Babies are for the future of the tribe / state. Failure to produce gives you the UK today.

  38. Ian Bennett

    I really don’t understand your point. Let’s return to the Rushdie / Westergaard free speech examples. Ayatollah Khomeini offered money for the murder of Rushdie, as punishment for Rushdie writing “The Satanic Verses”. Upholding Rushdie’s right to free speech obliged the UK government to provide him with a bodyguard, paid for out of taxation. You seem to be saying a society can declare its citizens free to write and say what they want, but do nothing to enforce that freedom against those who would murder them for exercising that freedom. That’s incoherent.

  39. Ian Bennett: ” Dwight, your summary is broadly correct. If you disagree, perhaps you would explain at what point the foetus does acquire rights. At conception? At implantation?”

    But what’s magic about birth? A newborn baby is no more able to take care of itself than a 9 month foetus.

    “The mother has the obligation not to harm her child, as has everyone. If she can drink 2 bottles of vodka and fulfil this obligation, fine. Chances are, of course, that she couldn’t.”

    OK – Mother has a baby. In your worldview, the mother has an obligation not to harm the baby. Does she also have an obligation to actively care for it, or can she have the baby, then wander off and leave it to fend for itself?

    If the mother has (or hasn’t) got such and obligation, does anyone else?

    If you tell me I have an obligation to actively care for my kid, is this not a case of my kid’s right to be cared for conflicting with my rights? After all, I have limited resources and may prefer to use them for something else.

    If nobody has an obligation to care for a helpless baby, in what way exactly does the baby usefully have rights?

  40. “Tim adds: Sorta true: for the meaning of abortion is not the killing of the fetus but its deliberate removal from the womb before term. Artificial wombs, strictly speaking, would make no difference at all to the abortion debate: but they would to the death of the fetus debate.”

    If medical science reaches that point, an abortion will simply mean a pregnancy of artificially reduced duration, not a termination. The mother will be legally responsible for her prematurely born (i.e. aborted yet living) baby until she has it legally adopted.

    In theory that will mean pro-life and pro-choice arguments no longer contradict and both sides will have won the debate.

    But maybe not. I suspect the pro-choice position isn’t really what it says it is. It’s not really about woman’s right to territorial sovereignty over her body while under the biological effects of pregnancy. Pregnancy may be painful and unpleasant – as a man, I admit I can’t possibly know what it feels like. But it only lasts for nine months maximum. The resulting baby is completely different. The child will be part of the woman’s future life story until the day she dies, even if she chooses to give it away for adoption.

    I suspect the real motivation for abortion is the wish for the fetus to be deleted from the woman’s future life story, not for bodily sovereignty during pregnancy.

  41. bloke in spain

    I don’t think we disagree fundamentally. We agree rights only exist in society. And societies are not static. Your example of the gradual extension of the franchise shows this.

    I don’t agree that “all of those states would have agreed with the legal position at the time & were argued as being morally correct.” There always were groups arguing for the extension of the franchise – e.g. the Chartists. After, say, the 1832 Reform Act, I doubt that even the MPs who voted for it thought they’d arrived at the final, perfect form of franchise, and were now living in some Fukuyama-style “end of history”.

    You say there can’t be culpability where there’s ignorance. But crossing from ignorance to knowledge is crucial, isn’t it?

    A few years back we had numerous deaths of Chinese stowaways suffocating in the back of lorries. You’re absolutely correct that if the lorry driver had no idea they were hidden in his lorry, there could be no blame on him for their deaths. But you seem to be saying it follows logically that he’d still be blameless if he knew they were there and chose to let them suffocate. Surely knowledge changes everything…

  42. In answer to georgesdelatour @ 44, particularly final para – I can’t see that I am.
    Your trucker has an obligation not to let Mr Chinaman suffocate in the back of his truck if he knows he’s there. Even if Mr Chinaman has paid said trucker to smuggle him over & knows the risks. Although in that case he’s partly culpable not solely. He even has an obligation to check for, Chinamen in general if he knows there’s a good likelihood of one being there. But Mr Chinaman hasn’t lost his ‘right to life’ because he patently didn’t have one. He’s brown bread. The obligation the trucker had was not to Mr Chinaman but to the society the trucker belongs to.
    The problem is the notion of rights, which has been stolen from the legal system – rights of access, droit du seigneur even – & misused as a claim on obligations. The coincidence the same word is used for ‘correct’ in English & a few other languages doesn’t help.

  43. PaulB – “I can’t see why this is important to you, but you’ve misled us about the gestational age of the baby, which according to evidence at the inquest was about 22 weeks.”

    The doctor ordering the abortion stated that the foetus was at 19 weeks. I am sure he would not do that simply to get around some obscure and irrelevant restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. It is not important to me and I don’t know what age the foetus was. I don’t think a 19 week old surviving foetus will cry any less than a 21 week old one. It shouldn’t matter.

  44. 40john malpas – “Does the individual desires or beliefs matter. Babies are for the future of the tribe / state. Failure to produce gives you the UK today.”

    The future will belong to those who have children. There is probably a reason why religions that impose restrictions on sexual behaviour have out-competed those that did not.

    41georgesdelatour – “Upholding Rushdie’s right to free speech obliged the UK government to provide him with a bodyguard, paid for out of taxation.”

    Sorry but no. Upholding his effective right to free speech obliged the government to provide him with a bodyguard. I see no obligation to protect someone from the consequences of their own actions. Rushdie’s free speech does not even imply we have to protect him from the consequences. I strongly defend his right to say what he likes. I can distinctly remember at the time not giving a damn if the Iranians caught up with him or not. I still don’t all that much. We have to do it because our government does not want to answer questions in the House. No more.

    “You seem to be saying a society can declare its citizens free to write and say what they want, but do nothing to enforce that freedom against those who would murder them for exercising that freedom. That’s incoherent.”

    No it isn’t. Because the proper option is not nothing – although in modern Britain it comes down to that. The proper option is to let Rushdie defend himself and to punish crime when it occurs. We are spending a fortune to prevent a crime that may or may not take place. That is incoherent. Especially as they won’t pay to protect the rest of us from crime.

    There is nothing contradictory about saying that people are allowed to do what they like up to the point they break the law. If an aspiring Islamist wants to murder Rushdie, they have not committed a crime until they take steps to that end. Why should he be protected? It is like saying that because I have a right to free speech the government has an obligation to buy me a newspaper to make my views known.

  45. It is already the case that pregnancies can be ended before their natural conclusion without killing the foetus.

    Caesarian sections and induced labour are both examples of such. I appreciate that people regard them both as birth now, but Shakespeare clearly didn’t regard a caesarian as birth, which does rather suggest a definitional question.

    I would favour a law that allowed pregnant women to have an elective caesarian or to be induced at any time of their choosing, in lieu of an abortion.

    Viability is a moving target, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have case-by-case determinations – “is this foetus independently viable?” “Let’s take it out of the womb and find out”

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