Right at the heart of the debate

Because – and this is what Hasan is fundamentally missing in his entire piece – those babies were wanted.

Which is the fundamental point that I reject. The civil rights of a human being do not change given whether someone wants them around or not. We insist in fact that civil rights are more important than people\’s desires or feelings.

Of course, if a foetus isn\’t a human being then there\’s no problem. But if it is then that is the problem.

33 comments on “Right at the heart of the debate

  1. Have you read Judith Jarvis Thompson’s ‘In Defence of Abortion’? In it she makes a comparison between a pregnant woman and someone hooked up to a famous violinist in a hospital for nine months in order to save the violinist’s life.

    Most people say that while it might be very nice for the person connected to the violinist to stay, few would say that they actually should be legally obliged to do so. The violinist is certainly human, but that fact doesn’t necessarily imply that you should be forced to save their life if it inconveniences you.

    You might argue that a pregnant woman has some sort of contract with her foetus to keep it alive until birth, but it’s not simply a question of whether a foetus is a human life or not.

  2. Thompson’s example is indeed excellent.

    It also creates one of the few good example for why someone might believe a foetus is a person to whom the mother does normally owe that responsibility, but still support abortion solely in cases of rape/abuse.

    This is the difference between having the violinist hooked up to you because you were (say) unlucky in a card game where you knew that was the forfeit, versus having the violinist forcibly hooked up to you against your will.

  3. Sam, I had never heard of that one before.

    It strikes me as a very cold hearted argument.

    The relationship between a mother and her unborn child is not, to my mind, the same as that between a random member of the public and a well known stringed instrument player who happens to need help.

    A pregnant lady is not being “forced to save” the life of her child in the event that she does not have an abortion. That’s like saying you are “forced to save” the lives of pedestrians at zebra crossings because the law doesn’t allow you to run them over in your car should the Highway Code inconvenience you.

    Feminist arguments usually resort to dishonesty because feminism is basically wrong.

  4. Steve, no, the analogy holds.

    The foetus is relying on the woman’s body to provide support; the violinist is relying on your body to provide support. Removing either is a physical action that will kill that person [*]. That’s completely different from the concept of running somebody over because you can’t be arsed with the brake pedal.

    The only question that’s of any moral difference is quite how you ended up responsible for saving the life of the (violinist/foetus) in the first place. Which is where my point above comes in.

    [*] I don’t believe the foetus is a person, but that’s the whole point of thought experiments.

  5. john b – I disagree for the following reasons:

    1) The relationship between mother and unborn child cannot – in my view – be compared with that of a relationship between two adult strangers, one of whom happens to need medical help. That analogy doesn’t really fit.

    Putting abortion aside for a second, our society recognises that parents have a moral responsibility towards their children, both born and unborn – hence the horror we have when we hear of a pregnant woman smoking or drinking or doing drugs.

    We do not hold that people have the same moral responsibility towards random strangers that they do for their own children.

    Comparing your unborn child to a random stranger is an interesting and typically 1970’s feminist effort to evade this moral responsibility by denying the intimacy of the connection between mother and baby, and therefore take the horror out of abortion, but in my view it doesn’t work.

    It doesn’t disguise the fact that what we are really talking about here is whether a mother should kill her unborn child.

    2) The act of abortion is not a matter of simply removing support for the foetus. That is a sanitised and unrealistic portrayal of abortion.

    Abortion involves a deliberate and invasive procedure specifically designed to kill the foetus, which is as deliberate and can be as gory in its own way as purposefully running over a gaggle of pensioners at a zebra crossing.

    3) I do think a foetus is a person, so we probably aren’t going to change each other’s minds on this one.

  6. Steve: are you saying that you would have no objection to abortion by clamping the umbilical arteries and allowing nature to take its course?

  7. PaulB – No, I’m not in favour of the hypothetical scenario you describe.

    It sounds as if we’re now debating whether it’s more ethical to kill someone by shooting them in the face or by starving them to death. It’s the killing I object to, the means employed don’t make it any more right.

    (Imperfect analogy, I know.)

  8. (inter alia, I am a different sam. I am a lower case sam….)

    “I don’t believe the foetus is a person,”

    “I do think a foetus is a person”

    Well, that will be the fundamental problem, right there, then.

    I don’t have a view on abortion – not for want of thinking about it (which I have done a lot) but because I *still* can’t decide whether a foetus is a person or not, and that is the fundamental fact that changes absolutely everything.

    Mind you, I haven’t half heard some shite arguments on this topic in the past. I remember hearing some form of biblical literalist saying that they didn’t believe in abortion even in cases of rape because “the sins of the father should not be visited on the children.” I remember wondering at the time if you could actually die from irony.

  9. Steve: but the “killing” procedure that PaulB outlines is exactly the same whether it’s applied to the foetus or to the violinist.

    sam: the interesting point about the violinist thought experiment is that it helps get past that basic clash. You’re *accepting*, whether because you believe it, or whether you don’t believe it but think the logic holds anyway (as I do) the premise that the violinist is a person.

  10. @Sam (proper noun variant): I don’t have strong views on abortion but that’s the most ridiculous argument I’ve ever heard on the subject.

    a) Except in cases of rape no one forces a woman to have sex. Actions have consequences!

    b) Most pregnant women that I’ve known haven’t spent their entire pregnancy in a hospital. In fact they carry on with their lives in a fairly normal fashion for the majority of it.

  11. john b (#9), do you really not believe that violinists are people?

    I could understand if it were bagpipers, but violinists?

  12. Of course, it then raises the even more baffling mystery of why a man should have to pay to support a violinist that a woman he happened to have sex with once has been nefariously connected to.

  13. “a woman he happened to have sex with once”

    I’m intrigued by the concept. You make it sound like the most incidental intercourse imaginable. ‘There we were, just standing in the lift, when she dropped her purse and whooops…’

    :)

  14. Dave,

    I put it that way to mirror/lampoon the feminist/abortionist portrayal of pregnancy as something that just happens to a woman, and for which she is not responsible (but paradoxically the father is) and not to reflect my own view (which is that both are morally responsible. As John B puts it above with his analogy of the card game.)

  15. “‘There we were, just standing in the lift, when she dropped her purse and whooops…’”

    You’ve clearly never taken the Reading-Wateloo line at peak time when they cut the number of carriages from eight to four for no reason.

    I used to live on that line, and I started getting up an hour earlier because I was getting slightly sick of being compelled to dry-hump strangers for quarter of an hour every weekday morning. It’s not like you got to choose which ones…

  16. @Ian B

    Yes, it is fun, isn’t it? Only women must have the right to choose if they carry a child to term, but men don’t have a right to choose if they pay for said child or not. Seems somewhat unbalanced to me.

  17. “…. the horror we have when we hear of a pregnant woman smoking or drinking or doing drugs.”

    Horror we have? Don’t know a bout the last one but pregnant women have been drinking/smoking for several thousand years/several generations respectively without the human race dying out so personally would regard whether they have a tipple or the odd fag THEIR OWN FUCKIN’ BUSINESS.
    Nitpicking on the comments? Undoubtedly. But an indication why both sides of this debate talk straight past each other.

  18. Bloke in spain-

    Talking of which (off topic) have you seen Duncan-Smith’s latest wheeze? He wants benefits paid on smart cards that can only be used for holy purchases, specifically not sinful ones like booze, tobacco etc. Of course many people will support this (dirty chavs spending our tax money on fags etc). To do this would of course require the implementation of a national network of card readers, lists of approved goods and services, etc etc. Also, remember that many people in work are on “benefits” e.g. working tax credits, child benefit.

    Now bear in mind that the Temperance and other moralist groups (e.g. Greens) have been “floating ideas” for smart cards to stop us all sinning, and carbon ration cards, etc, for some time.

    One is tempted to join the dots.

  19. well, this sounds like a great way to create a whole new way of money laundering. Or a new micro-economy, at any rate. And a great way to encourage more people on benefits into cash-based grey/black economy work / organised crime.

    Are they actually that stupid? Don’t answer that, it was rhetorical.

  20. bloke in spain – Must confess I wasn’t thinking about women who have the odd fag or half-glass of chardonnay while pregnant (which isn’t to be encouraged but probably won’t harm the child).

    I was thinking more along the lines of kids born with microcephalus and learning difficulties or other problems because Mummy couldn’t put down the vodka or the crack pipe while up the spout.

    At that end of the scale I would argue it ceases to be exclusively the mother’s FUCKIN’ BUSINESS.

    “But an indication why both sides of this debate talk straight past each other.”

    Maybe they assume too fuckin’ much.

  21. Steve
    Having had first hand experience of a junky girl & her lack of contraceptive caution, regrettably, it become everybody’s business. But just because there are extreme cases doesn’t give the right to interfere in the lives of presumable responsible people. Unless you want other people making inroads in your life.
    Nevertheless, Ian’s bit of news doesn’t surprise in the least. Or meet total disapproval. Tend to look at this on a very personal basis. If you want to get into my pocket because you’ve haven’t any money of your own, that’s still my money your spending. Retaining some say on how it’s spent might ease the pain a tad.
    sam’s (note small S) observation can only be a feature. Nothing better for getting people off their arses & into useful occupations like a thriving, healthy black economy. Teaches ingenuity, deceit, deviousness & downright thievery. All valuable life building skills as any politician will attest.

  22. Dave – “I’m intrigued by the concept. You make it sound like the most incidental intercourse imaginable. ‘There we were, just standing in the lift, when she dropped her purse and whooops…’”

    America hass the famous blow-job case (where a woman offered a man a blow job but somehow managed to get pregnant – which is presumably what happened to Boris Becker). But Britain has the insane woman who broke into a sperm bank to steal her ex-boyfriend’s seed. He was held liable to pay child support.

    How incidental do you want to get? And remember that in America they will jail you if you get fired or if the judge thinks you ought to be working harder.

  23. john b – “Steve, no, the analogy holds. The foetus is relying on the woman’s body to provide support; the violinist is relying on your body to provide support. Removing either is a physical action that will kill that person”

    No it does not hold. Supporting the violinist requires an action on someone’s part. You can simple not attend. Passively do nothing and he dies. If a pregnant woman passively does nothing she becomes a mother. Most of the time. To perform an abortion is to perform a positive act designed to kill the foetus. That is a very different act. How do you “remove” the mother’s body anyway?

    What you are saying is that because I earned my daily quid yesterday and did not give enough of it to help the starving children of Africa, I am as much a murderer as Ian Brady. I think not.

  24. PaulB – “In the USA they pay benefits in food stamps. Do neoliberals approve of that?”

    What’s not to approve of? Where is there anything to object to? It is not as if they are paying in nutriloaf.

  25. SMFS: because it costs vastly more than paying the same benefits in cash, both in terms of administration and in terms of destroyed consumer surplus.

    Tim adds: Well, this neoliberal is fascinated by food stamps. As well as Section 8 vouchers, the EITC, Medicaid and so on. For they are the major poverty alleviation programs over there. But when we measure poverty, or inequality there, we don’t include their effects.

    So US numbers are largely (not entirely mind) poverty and inequality before the effects of the benefits system. And everyone else’s numbers are after them.

    Not all that surprising that they diverge really.

  26. john b – “because it costs vastly more than paying the same benefits in cash, both in terms of administration and in terms of destroyed consumer surplus.”

    Got a source for that?

    Of course it is interesting that no one points out the bloody obvious – the Guardian is in trouble because it has lain down with Islamists and so it ought to be no surprise that some of them have fleas. Or in this case that extremist theological nutcases hold extreme theological nutty ideas. Of which this is about as mainstream as Hasan is likely to get. They are being far nicer to him than they would to the Catholic Arch-Bishop because, at a guess, MH is not White and because they have been lauding his sort of people for years. Since well before 9-11. So some of your allies hold odd opinions? Big surprise.

  27. SMFS: all benefits claimants under all proposed systems will be paid some proportion of benefits in cash. Are you seriously asking for a cite to show that it would be more expensive to build a dedicated smartcard system and use that to pay half the money? Would you like me to prove the rules of arithmetic from the basic axioms while I’m at it?

    Destroyed consumer surplus is pretty basic too: if I spend twenty quid on what I think you need, then you’re likely to get stuff that you value far less than if I gave you twenty quid to spend on what you thought you needed.

    I’m distinctly perplexed as to how the Guardian is responsible for a piece written on the HuffPo by a current HuffPo and former NS writer who’s never worked for the Guardian, but I suppose if you’re far enough to the right then all left-of-centrists start to look the same.

  28. john b – “Would you like me to prove the rules of arithmetic from the basic axioms while I’m at it?”

    Well it would be nice. But there is no rule about the efficiency of a welfare system. They can be good or they can be bad. There is no reason to think that paying in one way magically results in a better system than paying in another. You may be right in theory. But I don’t see how that is relevant here. Nor do I accept that it follows that setting up some sort of voucher system, or even a smart card system, will be more expensive by definition.

    “Destroyed consumer surplus is pretty basic too: if I spend twenty quid on what I think you need, then you’re likely to get stuff that you value far less than if I gave you twenty quid to spend on what you thought you needed.”

    Yes but that does not really answer the question. Because not all people on welfare have particularly well functioning cognitive processes. Or, obviously, they would not be on welfare. So restricting them from spending how they think they might like to spend, may in fact force them to spend on things they did not know they wanted, but actually did. For instance, they may be labouring under the delusion that their slot machine will pay out one day. But when their long term happiness is nore likely to be guaranteed by feeding their children.

    “I’m distinctly perplexed as to how the Guardian is responsible for a piece written on the HuffPo by a current HuffPo and former NS writer who’s never worked for the Guardian, but I suppose if you’re far enough to the right then all left-of-centrists start to look the same.”

    Well you are right. They do all look alike. But the link was to a piece written in the Guardian. Which has problems with the fact that a pillar of the British left is a theological extremist.

  29. @MattyJ

    It is a thought experiment designed to show that the assumption made that if the foetus is a human then abortion must automatically be wrong is wrong.

    It is NOT an argument for abortion, it is an argument against the claim that the only question is whether a foetus is human. Given your added points about the relationship between a pregnant woman and the foetus she’s carrying, you must agree that whether or not the foetus is a human is not the only question.

  30. On the welfare thing, it comes down to this widespread fallacy inherent to Calvinomics, to whit that economic problems are the consequence of moral turpitude; specifically in this case that the cause of macroeconomic unemployment is the unemployed themselves, and their own moral inadequacies. To quote the arch-Liberal Lord (Port Sunlight) Leverhulme-

    “It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.”

    One interesting epicycle on this bizarre worldview is the assumption that there are two classes- taxpayers and unemployed, and one funds the other. What is ignored is that most unemployed people are former taxpayers, or temporary non-taxpayers, and the whole justification of the Welfare State was/is that the people would accept high tax bills in return for security in times of distress, and pensions, and so on. If you’re going to break that principle, then people should at least be free to opt out.

    There’s also the issue that if you’re a poor man who is shit at his job, you get the sack and end up on the dole. If you’re a rich man who is similarly grossly inept, you get a “bailout” or, in Duncan Smith’s case, a job as a cabinet minister.

  31. “What is ignored is that most unemployed people are former taxpayers, or temporary non-taxpayers, and the whole justification of the Welfare State was/is that the people would accept high tax bills in return for security in times of distress, and pensions, and so on.”

    are we talking about these people? I thought the cards were only being proposed for long-term claimants who routinely blow their benefits on booze and drugs.

    As highlighted above, I think this idea is cretinous (although I accept bloke in spain’s point that black economies teach skills) but all the same this isn’t about people who are on disability benefit or out of work for six months; it’s manifestly aimed at people who have never worked and convert their giro into white lightening (or buckfast depending on geography).

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