Well, yes Ms. Penny, it is

The long-term psychological and health consequences that anti-choice groups claim are associated with abortion – everything from depression to breast cancer – have never been proven. The risks associated with pregnancy and labour, though, are serious and demonstrable, from postnatal depression to death in childbirth. That\’s the basic issue that most progressive lawmakers, with the exception of heroes such as Texas senator Wendy Davis, have been too squeamish to raise: it is monstrous to force a woman to go through pregnancy and labour against her will when the medical technology to prevent her having to do so is available.

It can also be described as monstrous to kill another person so that a woman doesn\’t have to go through that. And this is what is at the heart of the (non-religious) argument against abortion:

\”Abortion – kills one, hurts another\”

If you believe, as I do, that there are two people involved, one of whom ends up dead, the other alleviated of some risk and some pain, then the moral argument becomes very much more difficult than if you believe that there is only one person involved, with the other not existing, being merely a blob of cells.

Ectopic pregnancy? That\’s either one dead or two dead: hoick out the little one. 19 weeks just because I don\’t want it? Sorry love but we\’re not killing another just for your wishes.

Yes, as ever, I know that I\’m very much in a very small minority on this particular question. And where the line is drawn is a fiendishly complex decision, whichever view one takes of what is a human being. But I do insist that \”what is a human being?\” is the crucial point at issue here. As you don\’t which is why we\’ll ever disagree upon this subject.

16 comments on “Well, yes Ms. Penny, it is

  1. It’s a horrible topic; my instinct is to leave the law as it is.

    What does fascinate me, though, is the dishonesty with which the reforms of long ago were introduced. In the US Wade-Roe was government by judicial putsch – a Constitutional doctrine was just invented with the intention of frustrating the views of the electorate – or, rather, of many electorates, since it was properly a matter for the states.

    Here the reform was brought in on the promise that it wouldn’t mean “abortion on demand” although its proponents knew that it would, and indeed that was their intention. They may even have been right, but by God they were crooked.

  2. I believe your view is a principled one, and ‘what is a human being’ is the crux in all non-religious debates on this issue.

    I just don’t agree with it. Nature after all spontaneously aborts many more embryos that man does. We just call it something else – miscarriage.

    My view is that since we have a real human – the woman – and at best a potential human – the embryo – then the rights of the real human prevail, up to the point the embryo becomes capable of independent survival (which I would put at 20 weeks, but others would put at 20 years).

    I accept though that you have a different definition of ‘human being’ so I would make abortion before 20 weeks voluntary by the woman, not compulsory.

  3. Outside of rape, when is a woman forced to go through pregnancy or childbirth?
    Contraceptives are cheap, reliable and readily available. Most women use them (or see that their partners use them) all the time else they’d produce another sprog every year.
    Leaving aside the (important) debate regarding the point at which an embryo changes into a human being, if a woman chooses an expensive method of birth control over a cheap one, shouldn’t she face the consequences of her choice- and pay for it herself.

  4. “capable of independent survival”

    That’s a curious phrase. I mean, isn’t “viable” very different from “capable of independent survival”?

    Of my three children, none was “capable of independent survival” until nearly high school age. And even during their early 20’s there were times I still wondered.

  5. @Soarer: yes, nature does abort many pregnancies. But then in the long run we’re all dead so why worry about murder? Agency matters.

    As for is the embryo a real human, what on earth else could it possibly be? An embryo is what a human IS in the first few weeks of its life.

  6. Contraceptives aren’t 100% reliable, though. Nor is sterilisation. The only 100% reliable way to avoid pregnancy is to avoid doing things that would cause pregnancy.

    Look, there is no neat engineering solution to this, not yet anyway. Pregnancy happens and sometimes it is unwanted and whatever anyone thinks of it, abortion will happen too. So we can be pricks about it or we can permit it to happen (within some bounds etc).

  7. ” The only 100% reliable way to avoid pregnancy is to avoid doing things that would cause pregnancy. ”

    Immaculate conception anyone?

  8. The Guardianistas are going full-on sanctimonious over this.
    All I know about abortion is this – two lives are involved, but one is undergoing the process of developing that life. That’s why I have no ethical qualms about it up to a certain stage in the pregnancy, namely before the stage it develops a consciousness or pain receptors.
    Beyond that stipulation, I have no real right to tell women what reasons are good enough to warrant an abortion. Personally, I think adoption is nearly always preferable, but I would never say that to someone actually facing the choice unless asked.

  9. Declaring that the blob of cells is an independent life, as indeed is declaring that the 20-week fetus is not an independent life seem to me both faith positions, which is one reason it’s so difficult to get consensus in this rightly controversial area.

    That said, I find the characterisation of those seeking abortion as simply not fancying having a baby right now, portraying it as universally a question of (in)convenience for the expectant mother rather crass.

    My personal position is to leave complex moral and ethical decisions on which we have (absent total obedience to rule by an Ayatollah or Archdruid of Canterbury) no meaningful hope of consensus, to the individual(s) most directly affected by them.

  10. Right, we should not converse on the interweb since pigs wouldn’t.

    Incidentally, pigs have a habit of eating their newborns. Quite a lot of mammals do. Mice regularly eat their first litter.

  11. @ Stella Baskomb
    You must have been a particularly awful parent. I, and my siblings, were quite capable of independent survival before I started primary school

  12. Like so many hard problems this falls under the rubric of the Sorites Paradox. If we’re not doctrinaire Catholics then we can all agree that contraception, even via things like IUDs which prevent implantation, is not murder. If we’re not swivel-eyed feminist supremacists, then we can agree that killing a baby at birth is. At some point in between, not-murder turns into murder. Where, though, is the vexed question. Like Tim, I would put it on the low side, simply because erring in that direction has less moral downside than in the other. There are good faith arguments to be made in both cases. I do not believe many of the ‘pro-choice’ adherents are arguing in good faith, however. Since we have to have a bright-line distinction, 20 weeks seems a good compromise.

  13. Since when did people actually make life and death decisions based on moral upsides and downsides? Morals are helpful abstractions, not diktats.

    We have no moral reason to kill the unwilling conscript in the enemy’s army, merely a practical one. Guess which decision we make.

  14. We have no moral reason to kill the unwilling conscript in the enemy’s army, merely a practical one. Guess which decision we make.

    well, I would say that the practical decision here is: do we have legal abortion or illegal abortion? Because history suggests that is the only choice we really have.

    I don’t do the morals of this one. First, because it ain’t never going to happen to me, and second, because either moral position must start from a postition of faith, viz at what point something is a human being. And I don’t know.

    Although by and large, when I look around the people on both sides of the argument I’m generally drawn to the pro-choicers. Not by much, and pace our host, but the pro-lifers seem to contain more mad people, puritans, authoritarians, &c.

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