Well, no Polly, this does have something to do with it

The date at which a foetus might be viable has nothing to do with a woman’s right to choose.

The thing being that we’ve a Sorites Paradox here.

At one end of the process we’ve entirely separate gametes, each housed in their entirely different host bodies. Usually, but not always, there are two people involved in the process. And at the end of that process we end up with a third, entirely autonomous, different and unique, human being.

The process takes some 22 years in our current culture. From the meeting and fusing of those gametes to the near universally acknowledged full independence of that child when it reaches 21 years of age. Actually, it’s getting a little later as child support notionally stops when the child leaves university these days.

Our problem is that this is a Sorites Paradox. It’s very difficult to insist that the unfertilised egg is a human being deserving of all the protections against, say, being torn limb from limb, that we grant to fully independent human beings. It’s equally very difficult to insist that one 3 days from uni graduation is not eligible for those protections. But where exaclty is that dividing line? That’s what the Paradox itself is: where does a pile of sand become not a pile, where does life become life?

I agree entirely, as I always do on this subject, that I’m an extremist. My position is that life starts where positive action has to be taken to stop it doing so. Thus the egg that needs to be fertilised is not life: contraception is fine. But a fertilised egg left to its own devices in a fallopian tube, which will, if left alone, implant and grow and in that fullness of the 22 years become that independent human being? One that requires positive action to prevent it doing so? That’s life. Meaning that Ru-486 (or whatever) is not OK. That’s an abortifacient.

There are subtleties here: an ectopic pregnancy isn’t ever going to lead to that 21 year old. Thus intervention to stop it killing the mother is just fine (an attitude which even the Catholic Church supports even if you’ve got to ask a few times to get them to agree publicly).

But as I say I’m an extremist on this point, something I know and happily admit. I’m also entirely aware that most of the people I share this society with don’t view it this way. further, that the law ain’t ever gonna be the way I think it ought to be.

However, this still leaves us with the point that this really is a Sorites Paradox type problem. There is no clear and solid dividing line. All we can do, when setting the rules, is go with what most people think is about right. And that’s where viability becomes important. Almost all, almost (sadly only almost) are revolted at the sometimes US (and also Chinese for forced abortions) practice of inducing birth then sucking out the brains of the foetus/child (still Sorities here!) so as to make sure that a live and viable baby is not born. Because almost all agree that that’s sometime past that point at which this new human being gains those protections against being torn limb from limb.

Similarly most are, if not happy, will at least acquiesce, in the idea that a gob of 6 week old meiotic cells is not a human being and can be done away with according to the putative mothers’ wishes.

All of which brings us to what the society around us generally believes is the defining point about which is that tipping point in our paradox. I may not like it that my fellow citizens think this way, you obviously don’t either. But they all do: viability is the defining point. Far from that date of the foetus potentially being viable having nothing to do with a woman’s right to choose our fellows regard that as the defining moment. As and when it can be born and live it’s a human, before that it’s not.

40 comments on “Well, no Polly, this does have something to do with it

  1. I thnk Pol’s actually right on this one, in terms of her own argument. If you believe that a woman has a “right to choose”, the consequences of that choice to others (in this case, the foetus) are irrelevant. What Tim’s talking about is whether she should or does have a “right to choose” which is a different thing.

  2. Actually there’s a second defining point one can reasonably pick: birth.

    Prior to birth the foetus can be considered to be “parasitic” on a single human being, and there is a perfectly plausible argument that her rights to personal autonomy override all rights of the foetus whatsoever: the mother has no right, as such, to kill the foetus, but she has a right to remove the foetus from her body at any stage, and if it gets killed in the process then so be it. Recall that in the UK there is no general obligation to act to save somebody’s life.

    After birth “society” is capable of looking after the child and the argument no longer applies.

    Note that this is argument is purely about the morality of using force to intervene on behalf of the foetus. You have the perfect right to believe, as you do, that the foetus is human and has the full rights of a human being, but you do not have the right to insist that any other human being acts on that belief.

  3. The parasitic argument falls down on the responsibility argument; the baby is in there because the woman made a conscious choice for it to be there (rape excepted). As such, having made a conscious choice to make another human being biologically dependent upon her, she cannot simply deny responsibility.

    This is the problem with the “right to choose” argument. It is predicated on a paradigm of the baby just “being there” as if a wizard made it appear by magic. But that isn’t the case. When one considers the full context of its presence in the womb, the argument collapses.

    (The other point is that “right to choose” is most often trotted out by people who deny that human beings have any libertarian style rights to do anything. So it is automatically suspect on that basis, also).

  4. @ Ian B

    “baby is in there because the woman made a conscious choice for it to be there”

    That’s interesting – but is it true? If the woman is subsequently seeking an abortion, it is possible that she didn’t make “a conscious choice to put it there”?

    May have been drunk, accident, otherwise unintended, etc?

  5. Here we go again, the never-ending story of the rightwing newspapers’ campaign to roll back the right to abortion.

    Here we go again, Polly talking shit. This “campaign” only exists in her fervid imaginings. From time to time the right-leaning press will run a story or opinion piece about abortion, but it rarely receives any sustained attention.

    I’d put money on each of the following subjects having orders of magnitude more column inches devoted to them in recent years than abortion: HS2, house prices, planning permission, wind farms, celebrity diets, things that might cause cancer, the latest iPhone…

    Abortion just isn’t the subject of any sustained scrutiny by the British press.

    Right on cue, up pops Tory MP Fiona Bruce of the all-party pro-life group to say, “I don’t understand why there is not more outcry about the fact that we allow viable babies to be aborted.”

    That bitch! Popping up like that! You’re not supposed to mention the fact that we permit around 200,000 abortions per year in the UK. In other words, the equivalent of the population of Oxford plus Witney is killed in utero and disposed of as medical waste every single year. Enough English babies to populate Birmingham are destroyed every five to seven years.

    And we wonder why our country is starting to look like it’s not going to be our country for much longer…

    Abortion is very, very ordinary and a mark of civilisation

    You read that correctly. Infanticide is the mark of civilisation now. This, from a woman who thinks expecting the long term unemployed to put in a shift at Poundland for their benefits is a form of slavery.

    The film Obvious Child, a romcom out this week, is one of the remarkably few that deals with abortion as a normal event in a woman’s life […] In Coronation Street a convenient miscarriage saved the day; in Downton Abbey she had a change of heart. Only in Skins was it treated as normal. All this shows the grip the anti-abortion lobby has on nervous TV and film-makers. No heroine can have an angst-free abortion.

    No, you silly cow. Screenwriters and TV execs aren’t nervously deferring to a few Christians. The reason entertainment media is uncomfortable depicting abortion is because abortion makes normal people uncomfortable. We’d rather not think about it.

    Look at the flow of anti-abortion stories just in the Mail in the past months, and these are only a selection: “The baby who survived an abortion and the mother racked by guilt that she might have harmed the tiny child she now adores” (May); a singer “reveals her ‘shame’ at abortion and fears her youngest son’s autism was a ‘punishment’ for her actions” (May); “Rise of the ‘career girl’ abortion” (June); “Police use draconian riot law to break up pro-life vigil outside abortion clinic” (June); “Schoolgirl had four abortions before her 16th birthday” (July); and “Middle-aged mothers who are fuelling a rise in abortions” (July).

    Wow, six articles in three months. That’s either a sinister right-wing campaign, or the Mail thinks its largely female readership is interested in stories about maternal guilt and the shocking – sorry, “very ordinary” – behaviour of teenagers.

    The real campaign is to normalise the law in line with attitudes and behaviour. No need for two doctors to sign, no need for an early cut-off date.

    Unfortunately abortion was rare when Polly was a still a dirty thought in her father’s mind. Otherwise she could have been a “mark of civilisation”.

    For the third of women who do have an abortion it remains a stigma few dare discuss openly. Time for the soaps and the movies to catch up with the Obvious Child approach to an everyday medical fact.

    Next week on The Brady Bunch: childless Mike and Carol bet on which one of them will die first. Hilarity ensues.

    Grange Hill: Mr. Bronson is perturbed by a proposal by the majority Muslim pupils to turn GH into an Islamic school. Zammo gets beheaded behind the bike shed.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 2: The Child Catcher tries to avoid bankruptcy

  6. “But a fertilised egg left to its own devices in a fallopian tube, which will, if left alone, implant and grow and in that fullness of the 22 years become that independent human being”

    A fertilised egg may implant and grow until eventual birth. Or it may not, with no interference required. N Engl J Med. 1988 Jul 28;319(4):189-94 reportedly suggests that 60-80% of fertilized eggs fail to successfully implant, and of the remaining 20-40%, about 31% (i.e. 6.2-12.4% of total) fail to develop to term. So that suggests that 66.2-92.4% of fertilised eggs fail to develop into an actual live birth.

    I’d also recommend reading Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature”, which has a chapter on childrens’ rights and infanticide ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Better-Angels-Our-Nature-Violence/dp/0141034645/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1409566528&sr=1-1&keywords=better+angels+of+our+nature#reader_0141034645 ). He presents a convincing case that abortion has merely replaced infanticide. And given the lack of foetal consciousness until circa 24 weeks, that’s probably a better (or less bad, if you will) outcome.

  7. That’s interesting – but is it true? If the woman is subsequently seeking an abortion, it is possible that she didn’t make “a conscious choice to put it there”?

    May have been drunk, accident, otherwise unintended, etc?

    I’d like to know what “accidental” sex is. “We fell over and his penis accidentally landed inside me, and while we were trying to get up…”

    Sex is a conscious choice with known consequences. The fact that pregnancy may be not intended does not remove that element of conscious choice. If a person goes mountain climbing, they may fall off the mountain. They don’t intend to. But that outcome is one that they must take into account when choosing whether to climb a mountain or not.

    And no, drunk doesn’t count either. Try explaining to an officer with a breathalyser that you’re not responsible for drunk driving because you are drunk.

    There are a few situations where the woman would not be responsible; rape, obviously. Ignorance (genuinely does not know that sex causes babies. Very rare). Judged not to be mentally competent (insane, retarded, too young to make decisions). But the vast majority of abortions are performed on women who consciously chose to risk pregnancy, and so they cannot claim an absence of moral responsibility.

    The further point on that is the question of whether even situations where the woman is genuinely not responsible for her situation provides an entitlement to end another life. But that’s a somewhat different issue.

  8. I’d like to know what “accidental” sex is. “We fell over and his penis accidentally landed inside me, and while we were trying to get up…”

    Very good..!!

    “consciously chose to risk pregnancy” as you now put it is quite different from (and your exact words) “baby is in there because the woman made a conscious choice for it to be there”; that was all..

    We can agree to differ but those are very different things in my world.

    For example – your mountain analogy. I didn’t make a conscious choice to end up at the bottom of the mountain, it really was “an accident”..:)

  9. If someone consciously chose to risk pregnancy, then became pregnant, then changed their mind, why is that a problem? The assumption that once you become pregnant that is that seems somewhat outdated – a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this) and if you decide you do not want it, then who can force you to carry it.

    I always express this as the fact that no-one, state or church or Guardian harridan, should have the right to control what someone does with their body, be it have tatoos, bang a nail through their penis or have a baby (I believe those are meant to be increasing levels of pain, albeit I can’t see with current technology a direct comparison of two and three would be possible). Your body is you, and you can do what you like with it, and suffer the consequences (so long as you don’t frighten the horses, to steal our host’s somewhat odd phrase). This includes carrying or not a foetus. My only condition here is that abortion should be a medical procedure, and if doctors judge the baby might be viable, they can extract it alive and it can be adopted (people want babies apparently). Thus, if you want rid of a foetus, you can, but if the foetus is itself likely to live, then its right to do so requires you have a caesarean rather than a straight abortion. You are after all giving up the right to be the mother(/father – I am happy with the idea that male birth will be a technoloy at some point, and consider this is therefore a general issue), but do not have the right to be executioner if the foetus is viable.

    I always find that a satisfactory response. For those like our host, I am happy for them to try and take out the newly fertilised egg and keep that alive – but the seemingly religious ideal of life being from conception (it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense) rather than viability still requires a justification of this life controlling the body of another. I tend to find one life controlling another in this way if the second body is unwilling is called slavery – and that the refusal to support the right to abortion is logically the same as stating you can be enslaved against your will (even if that will was originally to be enslaved – people can change their mind, relationships can end, circumstances change). This whole debate is still shaped by the church’s terminology of life and the feminist desire for choice, but the best way to address this is simply in case of the absolute right to control our own bodies, and work from there – anything else implies our bodies are not our own but God’s, the state’s or the unborn child’s.

  10. Watchman-

    Your body is you, and you can do what you like with it, and suffer the consequences

    This sort of argument, as i keep pointing out, fails when you realise that there is another individual (the baby) involved in the decision. If it’s just “your body”, there is indeed a right to do whatever you want with it. The issue is “somebody else’s body as well”.

  11. This a debate woman should have.

    I am sick to death of hearing how men try to run and lead the debate. Leave the fannies alone, let those who have them worry about it.

    The rest of us can just be thankful that our mothers decided to carry us to full term.

  12. Where the dividing line?

    Well, there’s the Common Law which does not recognise Human life until the moment of birth.

    Prior to that there is a stage of development of the foetus where it has the same chance of survival unaided (that is without life support) as a full term birth. This will vary from foetus to foetus but probably no more than a couple of weeks prior to natural term.

    That would seem to be anything prior to 30 weeks, to err on the conservative side, and of course even with medical intervention foetus below 22 weeks have little chance of survivial.

    There is no paradox about setting a dividing line, it is ideological and of course the usual type of person who to make themselves feel warm and fuzzy wants to impose their World view on all.

    For those who are against abortion the answer is simple: don’t have one, but DO mind your own business when it involves others.

    A foetus has not more ‘Right’ to life than a kidney.

    In fact nobody has a Right to life or nobody could die… whom do you sue and under what law when old age or cancer threatens it, and what mechanism preserves that Right?

  13. Watchman – a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this)

    So are babies and small children (just watch how tired many parents are if you doubt this). They can’t fend for themselves. They’re utterly dependent on adults for their every need.

    Same goes for the severely handicapped, and old people with dementia.

    I always express this as the fact that no-one, state or church or Guardian harridan, should have the right to control what someone does with their body

    Sure.

    This includes carrying or not a foetus

    Once an unborn child starts growing in the womb, it is not part of the mother’s body any more. It is a separate life form. It could be described as a parasitical life form, yes, but you could equally make the same argument for Siamese twins – does one have the “right” to bump off the other?

    it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense

    On the contrary, if the product of human reproduction is not “life”, then I don’t know what “life” is. I suspect you may be conflating “life” and “sentience”.

    requires a justification of this life controlling the body of another.

    There is plenty such justification – moral (which is not the same as religious), and practical – given that we are literally dumping the future of our civilisation as medical waste.

    I tend to find one life controlling another in this way if the second body is unwilling is called slavery

    I think describing motherhood as slavery is ridiculous. But so be it. We, as a society, are awash with cheap (or free) contraceptives. Women are not being forcibly impregnated apart from vanishingly rare instances involving rape. The convenience of a reluctant mother should not trump the right of a viable human being not to be tossed away like garbage.

  14. Tim, your position may or may not be extreme. It is, however, logical. What is not logical is to describe a condition in a way that defies one’s own experience. Show me the pregant woman who genuinely experiences pregnancy as just a matter of ‘her own body’, who genuinely isn’t aware of another distinct life within her.

  15. “a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this)”

    Exactly what Steve said; we are all ‘parasitical’ at some stage of our lives – post-natal.

  16. John B – For those who are against abortion the answer is simple: don’t have one, but DO mind your own business when it involves others.

    Interesting argument. Let’s try it out with other circumstances:

    * For those who are against murder the answer is simple: don’t commit one, but DO mind your own business when it involves others.

    * For those who are against rape the answer is simple: don’t do one, but DO mind your own business when it involves others.

    * For those who are against kiddy fiddling the answer is simple: don’t go all Gary Glitter, but DO mind your own business when it involves others.

    Hmmmm… I find that line of approach unsatisfactory.

    In fact nobody has a Right to life or nobody could die…

    So homicide is OK?

    whom do you sue and under what law when old age or cancer threatens it, and what mechanism preserves that Right?

    I suspect you’re being intentionally flippant. No, our laws don’t regulate the effects of malignant tumours or ageing. They regulate the conduct of human beings. The right to life is a right not to be unlawfully killed by another person.

  17. TheJollyGreenMan – This a debate woman should have.

    I am sick to death of hearing how men try to run and lead the debate.

    Do fathers have no right to voice their opinion on what should happen to their unborn children?

    Do only women of childbearing age get to express a view? What about barren women?

    Slavery has been mentioned in this thread, so to use a slavery analogy – should the subject of slavery have been left to slaveowners and their human chattels to decide between them? Were free, non-slaveowning people wrong to campaign for abolition?

    Whether you like it or not, abortion is an issue that profoundly affects society as a whole.

    Ironman – What is not logical is to describe a condition in a way that defies one’s own experience. Show me the pregant woman who genuinely experiences pregnancy as just a matter of ‘her own body’, who genuinely isn’t aware of another distinct life within her.

    Indeed. The only reason abortion on an industrial scale exists in this country is because of the disconnect between language and reality. To the extent that we think of it at all, it’s couched in comforting euphemisms about “choice” and illogical pronouncements about what “life” is. If we were honest with ourselves, I doubt we’d have the stomach to permit abortion without torturing our consciences.

  18. I agree what someone does with their body is down to them, no-one else.
    Whether thats pregnancy, drinking, smoking, taking drugs or renting it out.
    I’m not a fan of abortion but I am pro-choice. If someone decides to have an abortion I won’t try and talk them out of it.

  19. Steve: What does it matter how many Oxfords worth of abortions there are? Is there some shortage of human beings that I was unaware of?

  20. Matthew London

    Let’s turn that back in itself: does there need to be an objective shortage of people before we count the number of deaths and consider it unacceptable?

    Steve’s point was purely and simply to illustrate the scale of the moral human catastrophe.

  21. I always have thought that the 23 week limit to be illogical, if the conclusion is that abortion is moral if the baby can’t survive outside the womb.
    If a baby will die outside the womb then the right thing to do is to leave it there.
    Which is what Timmy seems to be arguing.

  22. “life starts where positive action has to be taken to stop it doing so”.

    The Catholics of course take the same view and see contraception as positive action to prevent a life from starting, which I think is even more parsimonious than Tim’s position.

  23. Ironman (lol) to be fair, your opinions are valid, but mental. You wouldn’t get close to wiping my arse in a face to face.

    You twat.

  24. You wouldn’t get close to wiping my arse in a face to face.

    So you are confirming that you talk out of your arse eh ?

  25. All very fancy. But the plain fact is that if women do not breed enough difficulties arise for the whole country.
    And the government will have no difficulties in replacing the non breeders with people who will.
    Can’t/ won’t? Look out the window.

  26. “In fact nobody has a Right to life or nobody could die… whom do you sue and under what law when old age or cancer threatens it, and what mechanism preserves that Right?”

    Either you’re trying to be clever or you don’t understand the context. The context of rights legislation is what the state does or allows to happen to people in the jurisdiction.

  27. Watchman,

    I don’t think you have the remotest clue about the current state of medical technology, and I suspect you don’t know much about pregnancy either.

    > If someone consciously chose to risk pregnancy, then became pregnant, then changed their mind, why is that a problem? The assumption that once you become pregnant that is that seems somewhat outdated

    Well, there are lots of situations in life which involve commitment. Not all decisions last a few seconds. If someone chooses to take out a seven-year loan, then changes their mind after three years, why should they still pay interest on it? If someone chooses to have those weird giant earrings distand their earlobes, then changes their mind, why shouldn’t the holes miraculously disappear?

    > a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this)

    Just try telling those tired pregnant women that their baby is a parasite. See how popular you become at pre-natal classes.

    > and if you decide you do not want it, then who can force you to carry it.

    Sorry, you’re saying that not giving someone an abortion is the same as forcing them to carry a child to term? That’s absurd. It is abortion that is a forcible intervention. It might be a forcible intervention that you think should be allowed, but it is a forcible intervention. Obviously.

    > My only condition here is that abortion should be a medical procedure, and if doctors judge the baby might be viable, they can extract it alive and it can be adopted

    How? They just put the baby into one of those amazing mechanical fake wombs that don’t exist, presumably. I think you may have confused “viable” with “absolutely fine, no problem” here.

    Even assuming that it were possible to rear a baby aborted at, say, 30 weeks outside its mother’s womb in such a way that it will not have nasty medical complications for the rest of its life, it would be hugely expensive — probably running into the millions, certainly the hundreds of thousands. In your utopia, who pays those costs? The mother who chooses to abort, would be a sensible answer, but I’m guessing it’s not yours.

    > Thus, if you want rid of a foetus, you can, but if the foetus is itself likely to live, then its right to do so requires you have a caesarean rather than a straight abortion.

    Sorry, you’re proposing that women who don’t want to give birth can have Caesarians instead? You think Caesarians are easier than birth? Do you know what they involve? Have you met many women immediately post-Caesarian?

    > I always find that a satisfactory response.

    You’re satisfied with your own response? Gosh. That proves it, then.

    > the seemingly religious ideal of life being from conception (it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense)

    Do you know what the scientific definition of life is? I don’t think you do. I also don’t think you know what a foetus is like for most of its gestation, and are falling for the common pro-abortionist propaganda about “just a blob of cells”.

    There is no scientific debate (no matter what you may think) about whether a foetus is alive: it very obviously is. The debate is about what constitutes human life and is therefore due the rights and protections afforded to humans.

    > I tend to find one life controlling another in this way if the second body is unwilling is called slavery – and that the refusal to support the right to abortion is logically the same as stating you can be enslaved against your will

    But this is far from the only normal everyday situation in which one person controls another. How about parenthood? Plenty of parents don’t want to do it anymore. So, according to you, they’re slaves, right? And they should have the right to chuck their three-year-olds out of the house to fend for themselves and get on with living as non-parents, right? After all, telling them that they’re not allowed to abandon toddlers is logically the same as stating you can be enslaved against your will, right?

    > This whole debate is still shaped by the church’s terminology of life and the feminist desire for choice

    I’m an atheist. As was Christopher Hitchens, who was pro-life (probably more staunchly and unequivocally than than me). This common claim that you’re bravely battling the mediaeval forces of religious superstition is simply an ad hominem attack. A very clumsy one too.

    > anything else implies our bodies are not our own but God’s, the state’s or the unborn child’s.

    No, the claim is not that the mother’s body belongs to the unborn child’s; the claim is that the unborn child’s body belongs to the unborn child. Obviously.

  28. TheJollyGreenMan,

    > This a debate woman should have. I am sick to death of hearing how men try to run and lead the debate. Leave the fannies alone, let those who have them worry about it.

    I know, it’s awful. And did you know that William Wilberforce was white? I know: a white man agitating for a bunch of other white men to legislate about what happens to black people! The nerve! And then there was the all-male parliament voting to give women the vote, as if it was any of their business. And, did you know, the people who banned child labour weren’t even children? Some of them weren’t even parents! Disgusting. Roosevelt wasn’t a soldier, Mandela wasn’t a Zulu, The RSPCA isn’t run by kittens, etc, etc.

  29. PF,

    > That’s interesting – but is it true? If the woman is subsequently seeking an abortion, it is possible that she didn’t make “a conscious choice to put it there”?

    Since Ian was responding to Jonathan Jones’s suggestion that the cut-off point be the moment of birth, that is immaterial. At 39 weeks pregnant, the woman has made the decision not to have an abortion at, say, 12 weeks.

  30. What I find so odd about this debate is the way people try to define it in other terms. What is pregnancy? Is it a contract? Is it slavery? Is the foetus property, and, if so, how should we apply principles of property law to it? Or is it a parasite? But pregnancy isn’t some weird complicated new introduction to our society that we need to analyse in simpler terms in order to understand it; it’s one of the fundamental building blocks of our society — arguably the most fundamental one. So is parenthood. Instead of tying oneself in knots analysing pregnancy and parenthood in terms of how they can be defined as if they’re something else, why not just regard them as pregnancy and parenthood and proceed from there?

    “Well, if the foetus were another animal, it’d be a parasite.” But it isn’t. “If the woman were forced into servitude by another grown-up, it’d be slavery.” But she isn’t.

  31. Ian B,

    Watchman-

    Your body is you, and you can do what you like with it, and suffer the consequences

    This sort of argument, as i keep pointing out, fails when you realise that there is another individual (the baby) involved in the decision. If it’s just “your body”, there is indeed a right to do whatever you want with it. The issue is “somebody else’s body as well”.

    Erm, so you are giving a foetus the same status as a living human, and you are then saying that there is an obligation to keep that person within you whether you want to or not? That is my point – if the body inside is to be legally a body in this way fine, but as nobody can force me to do something against my will without this being slavery why should this body have this particular right? If a body has legal protection, it also has the same obligation not to enslave others. If that body is not then viable without the support, that is unfortunate.

    I don’t like this line of thought, but any other line of thought allows for slavery to another, and therefore allows state (and church) to command the bodies of women (at the moment). I tend to feel women’s bodies are their own, not ours or the state’s or God’s. If you want freedom, do not let the statists and control-freaks in through the back door, however unpalatable that seems. Ultimately we cannot allow those who would control our lives the leaway of saying that what is inside you is ‘another body’ and that therefore it ranks the same, as that is simply saying to the parent ‘we control your body’.

  32. Steve,

    Watchman – a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this)

    So are babies and small children (just watch how tired many parents are if you doubt this). They can’t fend for themselves. They’re utterly dependent on adults for their every need.

    Same goes for the severely handicapped, and old people with dementia.

    I am not aware that there is an absolute duty to take care of any of these on anyone – you can abandon your responsibilities to care for children or those in need who depend on you (and sometimes even for good reasons). So why are foetuses different?

    Once an unborn child starts growing in the womb, it is not part of the mother’s body any more. It is a separate life form. It could be described as a parasitical life form, yes, but you could equally make the same argument for Siamese twins – does one have the “right” to bump off the other?

    Now that’s an interesting argument, and one I have not previously thought about. But the answer is still simple – let’s assume a siamese twin (sharing a liver) is abusing alcohol to the point where it has been declared medically dangerous; their twin has the right to get them stopped because his or her liver is being damaged by the other twin’s actions. That the liver belongs to the heavy drinking twin as well is irrelevant – it is the possession of the twin who is being harmed that is important here. No idea how you could enforce this or anything, but the principle is in fact pretty simple. And unless you believe that a siamese twin should be able to harm his or her twin through their own desires, the same principle does not allow a foetus to require its parent to host it if they do not wish to do so (just to wind people up further, yes carrying and giving birth to a baby would count as harm looked at totally logically).

    Watchman – it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense

    On the contrary, if the product of human reproduction is not “life”, then I don’t know what “life” is. I suspect you may be conflating “life” and “sentience”.

    I may be. But by your definition we would also have to protect all animals and maybe plants in the same way, as your defintion of life is too wide. I am not sure I require sentience (a newborn is only debatably sentient for a couple of weeks at least), but I do require the ability to exist independently from the parent (this does not mean independently of care). So a baby could be born early by caesarian and then kept in an incubator – that’s fine.

    Watchman – requires a justification of this life controlling the body of another.

    There is plenty such justification – moral (which is not the same as religious), and practical – given that we are literally dumping the future of our civilisation as medical waste.

    Erm, I am now worried. How is a child who will never be born the future of our civilisation. Which civilisation anyway? If you oppose abortion on the grounds that every [insert description of child here] is necessary to preserve our culture from [insert perceived threat here] then are you not meanwhile risking overthrowing our culture by letting a statist controlling mindset take over even more?

    I think describing motherhood as slavery is ridiculous. But so be it. We, as a society, are awash with cheap (or free) contraceptives. Women are not being forcibly impregnated apart from vanishingly rare instances involving rape. The convenience of a reluctant mother should not trump the right of a viable human being not to be tossed away like garbage.

    The convenience of a viable human being should not trump the right of another human being to do as they wish with their body. Contraception is irrelevant to this debate (note it is wealth, not availability of contraception which reduces birth rates), as it is about one simple issue. When is it appropriate to have a foetus terminated (or if you hold my point of view, removed as viable). Your construction requires the biological parent to be a mother. My construction allows a human to decide if they wish to be a mother. One of those is tyranny, the other free choice. I know which the statists and the ‘God-fearing’ would prefer; your question ultimately is which you prefer. If you support liberty, face up to the fact it is not nice, and does not protect ‘cultures’ or potential people, because liberty is simply and unreservedly about the individual and their freedom.

  33. Squander two,

    > If someone consciously chose to risk pregnancy, then became pregnant, then changed their mind, why is that a problem? The assumption that once you become pregnant that is that seems somewhat outdated

    Well, there are lots of situations in life which involve commitment. Not all decisions last a few seconds. If someone chooses to take out a seven-year loan, then changes their mind after three years, why should they still pay interest on it? If someone chooses to have those weird giant earrings distand their earlobes, then changes their mind, why shouldn’t the holes miraculously disappear?

    The earring holes don’t dissapear because of physics. But the choice to put them there and look odd is that of the individual, who will know the process is irreversible without plastic surgery (or may not, but will find out…). That is simply the way technology is. And if I want to stop paying interest on a seven-year loan, I can either pay off the balance or default (both options have costs, but they exist). Likewise ending a pregnancy is an option with costs, following on from another option. I am not saying anywhere that it is an easy option (I have had friends make this decision, so know it can cover a range of emotions).

    > a foetus is parasitical (just watch how tired many pregnant women are if you doubt this)

    Just try telling those tired pregnant women that their baby is a parasite. See how popular you become at pre-natal classes.

    Now that sounds like fun. But despite the fact that I would be technically correct, I agree that the mothers to be at a prenatal class (and their partners, who can also be quite attached to a foetus) might not be happy to hear this. Of course, if they are at a prenatal class we can assume they are planning to have and very probably keep the baby in question, so they are not the people on whom this discussion is focussed, who may well be more accomodating to my view. But I use parasitical deliberately – because it is a stark word to show how the relationship works if it is not with the consent of the parent (I tend not to use host, which would be more correct in the analogy, as this may imply no choice in acquiring the parasite…). This is not about making myself popular with mothers to be (I believe mastering back rubs is the way to go there…) but about making it clear that there is a point of view consistent with supporting liberty, but it can appear unpleasant.

    > and if you decide you do not want it, then who can force you to carry it.

    Sorry, you’re saying that not giving someone an abortion is the same as forcing them to carry a child to term? That’s absurd. It is abortion that is a forcible intervention. It might be a forcible intervention that you think should be allowed, but it is a forcible intervention. Obviously.

    Having a suspicious growth removed is a forcible intervention. Having an appendix removed is a forcible intervention. Assassinating Osama bin Ladin was a forcible intervention. Good term, but of limited value here. I agree an abortion is a forcible intervention. I assume you think this is a problem, but if you are willing to undergo a forcible intervention and can find someone to perform it then that seems fine to me. That’s called freedom. It’s a strange and wonderful thing.

    > My only condition here is that abortion should be a medical procedure, and if doctors judge the baby might be viable, they can extract it alive and it can be adopted

    How? They just put the baby into one of those amazing mechanical fake wombs that don’t exist, presumably. I think you may have confused “viable” with “absolutely fine, no problem” here.

    Even assuming that it were possible to rear a baby aborted at, say, 30 weeks outside its mother’s womb in such a way that it will not have nasty medical complications for the rest of its life, it would be hugely expensive — probably running into the millions, certainly the hundreds of thousands. In your utopia, who pays those costs? The mother who chooses to abort, would be a sensible answer, but I’m guessing it’s not yours.

    Actually, it may surprise you to discover it is. If that is the cost of your actions, you bear it (you have another option, which is to carry the foetus to term – becoming pregnant is not consequence free). I agree the technology may not be suitable for this as a regular occurence now (which therefore argues that the foetus is not a viable person, as they cannot live independently of the parent), but it is getting there surprisingly quickly (or maybe not surprisingly if you look at the pace of technological developments – thanks capitalism).

    Incidentally, from the comment about the mother not bearing the cost I am concerned you see me as some form of leftish-liberal who believes the state should do all the work and pay the costs. Whilst the state could do this if people wish (democracy is a fun thing), my view is that getting pregnant has its costs, but you should have the full range of options. Kind of very brutal libertarian if you like.

    > Thus, if you want rid of a foetus, you can, but if the foetus is itself likely to live, then its right to do so requires you have a caesarean rather than a straight abortion.

    Sorry, you’re proposing that women who don’t want to give birth can have Caesarians instead? You think Caesarians are easier than birth? Do you know what they involve? Have you met many women immediately post-Caesarian?

    Did I say it would be easier or safer? I said it should be an option, because of the logic of my position. You might have to be insane to take it but that is the choice, and to be honest people put those big earrings in, so clearly people will do insane-seeming things.

    > the seemingly religious ideal of life being from conception (it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense)

    Do you know what the scientific definition of life is? I don’t think you do. I also don’t think you know what a foetus is like for most of its gestation, and are falling for the common pro-abortionist propaganda about “just a blob of cells”.

    There is no scientific debate (no matter what you may think) about whether a foetus is alive: it very obviously is. The debate is about what constitutes human life and is therefore due the rights and protections afforded to humans.

    I am happy that a newly-fertilised egg is alive, in the same way as an amoeba. As that comment was not about foetuses, I think you got a bit distracted there by your own views. In particular, you assume that pro-abortionists (interesting group – do they go round encouraging people to abort, or do you perchance mean people who support the right to have an abortion, for whom that would not quite be the rigth label) tell people foetuses are blobs of cells (well, not inaccurate, as you and I are both that as well – arguably the blobbing of cells created advanced life). I’ve never heard that argument – mostly they just say the small baby-like thing is not viable at x weeks (which seems to be playing the anti-abortionist (see that is an accurate label – they oppose abortion) game to me). Me, I don’t care if it is ‘alive’ according to 97% of scientists or whatever; as you may notice my point is that the parent has the right to get rid of the foetus whenever because the parent is clearly alive and has rights of their own. I care about the rights of the parent as opposed to rights created by state or church for a person who bluntly does not yet exist as an independent human, and considering that childbirth is never guaranteed, may not ever exist as an independent human.

    > I tend to find one life controlling another in this way if the second body is unwilling is called slavery – and that the refusal to support the right to abortion is logically the same as stating you can be enslaved against your will

    But this is far from the only normal everyday situation in which one person controls another. How about parenthood? Plenty of parents don’t want to do it anymore. So, according to you, they’re slaves, right? And they should have the right to chuck their three-year-olds out of the house to fend for themselves and get on with living as non-parents, right? After all, telling them that they’re not allowed to abandon toddlers is logically the same as stating you can be enslaved against your will, right?

    So long as they pay for the care of their children and ensure their safety and education to an acceptable standard (I’d suggest adoption, but boarding school works for some apparently) then this seems fine yes. Indeed, some parents are so bad and unhappy that the state in one of its more legitimate role intervenes and takes children away for their own good. You can abandon children legally (sometimes even legitimately, but society tends to be quite unforgiving of this). I’d find it very difficult to understand personally, but I do not think that means it should be ruled out.

    > This whole debate is still shaped by the church’s terminology of life and the feminist desire for choice

    I’m an atheist. As was Christopher Hitchens, who was pro-life (probably more staunchly and unequivocally than than me). This common claim that you’re bravely battling the mediaeval forces of religious superstition is simply an ad hominem attack. A very clumsy one too.

    An atheist can still use the arguments constructed by the religious, and you do in investing an unborn child with life (not scientifically, but in the sense of being a living human being). Science can tell you something is alive, but you can’t then claim science tells you that thing is alive and a human if the characteristics of life described do not distinguish it from plants, protozoa or animals. Science never says a foetus is a living human, merely that it is alive and that the organism is a foetus of a human (note foetus is a different status from neonatus). That it is a human is an assumption then made from a religous perspective which is added on to this. So you and the late Christopher Hitchins may well have been athiests (I congratulate you on your certaintly – I reject religions as the work of man but can’t be sure there is no God) but it seems your arguments are based on a religious gloss on scientific categorisation.

    > anything else implies our bodies are not our own but God’s, the state’s or the unborn child’s.

    No, the claim is not that the mother’s body belongs to the unborn child’s; the claim is that the unborn child’s body belongs to the unborn child. Obviously.

    Indeed. I do not dispute this. So therefore if the parent’s body does not belong to the unborn child (as this is not your claim), then it does not have to carry the unborn child. For if it did, the parent’s body would clearly belong to the unborn child, as the unborn child’s existence required it to be carried regardless of the parent’s own wishes. Easy, and done.

  34. Squander Two

    And now I’m wondering what aspect of the human condition Watchman DOES understand!

    Sorry Watchman, I don’t wish to engage in ad hominem, but you cannot describe pregnancy in these terms and still be taken seriously.

  35. > I agree an abortion is a forcible intervention. I assume you think this is a problem

    Nope, you missed the point. The point, as I made explicitly clear, is that you are claiming that [not giving a woman an abortion] equals [forcing a woman to carry a baby to term]. But it is (as you admit) abortion which is the forcible intervention, not its lack. Your logic is the same as saying that, by not giving you a thousand pounds, I am forcing you into debt.

    > Actually, it may surprise you to discover it is. If that is the cost of your actions, you bear it

    So you support abortion rights, but only for the exceedingly rich. Which makes you, in the real world, more of an anti-abortionist than me.

    > I agree the technology may not be suitable for this as a regular occurence now … but it is getting there surprisingly quickly

    Again, you clearly don’t know the current state of medical technology.

    > Did I say it would be easier or safer? I said it should be an option, because of the logic of my position. You might have to be insane to take it but that is the choice

    You implied it — otherwise what is the point of your argument? That women may (in your utopia) avoid the risks of giving birth by choosing to do something even more risky? Why would they?

    > As that comment was not about foetuses, I think you got a bit distracted there by your own views.

    Really? Here’s what you actually said:

    > the seemingly religious ideal of life being from conception (it is not scientific, as for most of it’s gestation a foetus is not ‘living’ in any meaningful sense)

    So that explicitly was about foetuses. And you were claiming that there is no meaningful or scientific sense in which a foetus is alive for most of its gestation. So pointing out that, in fact, yes it is, is very much on point.

    > pro-abortionists (interesting group – do they go round encouraging people to abort, or do you perchance mean people who support the right to have an abortion, for whom that would not quite be the rigth label)

    Yeah, I used to think that. A few people are genuinely pro-choice. They tend not to go on about it. The strident ones are almost always pro-abortionists, as can be easily seen by their reaction to things like the Kermit Gosnell case, or their insistence in the US that abortion clinics be exempt from the medical safety regulations that apply to all other medical clinics, or legislation that suggests advising women about the risks associated with abortion before going through with the procedure. Toynbee’s article under discussion here, for example, is complaining not that women don’t have the right to an abortion but that the media aren’t portraying abortions as lovely — an increasingly popular complaint of the pro-abortionists: they had conniptions about the film Knocked Up too, because how dare it portray a woman who chooses to go through with an unplanned pregnancy as the result of a one-night stand? If it were about choice, that wouldn’t be a problem — but they object so loudly to the wrong choice.

    > foetuses are blobs of cells … I’ve never heard that argument

    Then you are woefully uninformed about the subject under discussion.

    > So long as they pay for the care of their children and ensure their safety and education to an acceptable standard … then this seems fine yes.

    Two things. Firstly, in the case of pregnancy, you can’t ensure the safety of your child by having an abortion. Obviously.

    Secondly, I didn’t say “arrange to be adopted” or “send to boarding school”; I said “abandon”.

    > You can abandon children legally

    No, you really can’t. Try it and see what the police say when you tell them that. Do you know anything about the stuff you’re talking about?

    > Science never says a foetus is a living human, merely that it is alive and that the organism is a foetus of a human

    OK, so what species does science say a human foetus is, if not human?

    > So you and the late Christopher Hitchins may well have been athiests … but it seems your arguments are based on a religious gloss on scientific categorisation.

    Really? And you’ve read Hitchens on abortion, I take it? So you know what his argument was? Of course you do.

    Anyway, to recap your views:

    You believe women must logically and morally have the freedom to end their pregnancies by having their babies transferred, using a method more dangerous than the natural birth whose risks they’re trying to avoid, into magical mechanical womb-machines so that the babies can survive healthily to full term and then be adopted, and that those women must pay for this currently impossible and presumably one day hideously expensive procedure out of their own pockets, and that not giving them this procedure which currently does not exist is the same thing as enslaving them.

    Glad we got that sorted out.

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