Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Pro Life Atheist Guest Post

I'd like to thank David for writing the below. Like many of my past guest posts it's fair to say we disagree but  there's little point in blogging if you're not going to listen to those of differing opinions and as an atheist opposed to abortion his voice is one not often heard in the debate.

I requested this guest post through a rather unusual method. I'd examined the Twitter account of @ProLifeAtheists and found that most of their followers were Catholic. While I still consider @ProLifeAtheists a poor example for those seeking to demonstrate diversity among those opposed to abortion, it was never my intention to imply that being an atheist and not being pro choice were mutually exclusive. I'm glad that David has been willing to give of his time to share his thinking.

He's indicated that he'll be happy to respond to comments below as time allows. I know that he's a busy chap and appreciate any time he can give.

I was asked to put some of my thoughts on paper because I happen to be an atheist who happens to be ‘pro-life’. I was asked to explain ‘why I'm an atheist’ and to also outline my feelings on abortion.

Well, I was born to Catholic parents. I was educated in a Catholic environment, and I would say that my present ‘values’ would be Christian influenced. But who was Christ? Well at this stage, to me, he was a man who lived a few thousand years ago who had some pretty enlightened ideas on how people should live with each other, ideas which, I think, have much in common with most other religions/social philosophies of the world. To me, Jesus was a man with ideas, and he wasn't the first or last person in history to have been persecuted for proclaiming unconventional or unfashionable ideas. From around the age of 16 I finally decided to defy my parents by no longer routinely going to mass with with them on Sundays, cos I simply did not believe in the whole thing. As for me, ‘agnostic’ may have been what I was as I started thinking for myself as a teenager. But at this stage of my life, when I think on it, I realise that I have been an atheist for quite some time. It actually feels odd to me to realise, that if I were to be pigeon-holed, it would be into that little box marked ‘ atheist’. It’s not something I dwell on too much, and its not like I remind myself every Sunday that I'm an atheist by attending some atheist church!! And I don’t belong to any kind of atheist club or anything like that. I'm a bit surprised at the notion some people seem to have, that being an atheist can’t be compatible with being anti-abortion, and that folks might think I'm just pretending not to be some kind of praying church-going bible-bashing ultra-Catholic, disguising myself as an atheist just to try to be cool.

I have a third level education of a scientific nature. I have had no formal education in the arts, philosophy or theology. My feelings on abortion are derived from what is, to me, instinctively fundamentally right or wrong as a human being, not because it is something dictated by any church’s teaching.

Any debate on this subject surely has to start with the fact of what exactly abortion actually is. Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy, which is the destruction and removal from the womb of the new ‘life’ which came into existence at the point of conception. This is fact – the debate starts at not whether there is a life, but whether this life is actually ‘human’, and if it is ‘human’ then whether it has any less of a basic right to life at 4 weeks, 12 weeks, 24 weeks, etc. than a new-born baby or indeed any human being at any stage in its life. Obviously if an unborn ‘life’ is not in fact a human being, then for me there is no argument – why should there be a problem with the ethics of abortion in that event? If human life only begins at birth, then I would agree, what’s the issue with killing a thing which is not yet a human being? However, anyone who in this day and age refuses to accept that human life begins at conception is surely flying in the face of science and logic.

Birth does not bring about a change in the nature of the ‘organism’ being born, it merely brings about a change in location. What was growing inside the womb now moves outside of the womb, and continues to grow. There is no change in the nature of a baby from an hour before it is born to an hour after it is born. Likewise, a baby born prematurely at 6 months, is not regarded, as far as I am aware, as somehow less than human or less worthy of a right to life until it is magically 3 months old (9 months from conception), than a normal full term baby born at 9 months old. The growth of the ‘ foetus’ is seamless from conception to birth, just as it is seamless from birth to full adulthood. There is no defining moment which one could choose, to define as the moment where this ‘organism’ becomes a human being. All the arguments about ‘ dependency on the mother’, ‘viability outside the womb’, ‘personhood’ etc etc are purely pedantic. There are many human beings, from newborn babies right through to elderly people on their death beds, who are entirely dependant on the help and sustenance of others to survive, no less than the unborn baby is entirely dependant on the sustaining environment inside its mother’s womb to remain alive.

So, for me, my reasoning, my conscience, and all the scientific evidence I am aware of, convinces me beyond doubt that we human beings, along with all other animals, start our lives at conception. We come into being at that moment. The fusion of the DNA from the mother and the father is the only ‘defining moment’ which can be pointed to. Everything after this moment is merely the multiplication of cells and the growth in size, and is seamless. This ‘fundamental truth’ defines for me how I must regard abortion, and how I must reason with the various arguments which are constantly put forward to try to justify the legitimacy of abortion either on the whole or in certain circumstances. The fact that, for me, abortion is the killing of a human being, has to be taken into account in any dilemma concerning whether an abortion should be allowable. Once you regard that unborn ‘thing’ as a human being with as equal a right to life as a mother, or a new-born baby, or a disabled person, or a dying patient, then you have to base all decisions by taking this into account.

Who is calling for it to be acceptable to simply kill a new-born child with a diagnosed fatal disability, in order to ‘put it out of its misery’? Yet people are saying it should be OK to abort a baby with a diagnosed severe disability.
Who is calling for the immediate execution of rapists, without trial? Yet many people proclaim it’s OK to kill the innocent child of the rapist and his victim.
If a rape victim were to carry her rapist’s child until birth, is anyone saying it would be OK to kill the child then? No? Why not?
Who is calling for Downs Syndrome children, or indeed adults, to be liquidated? Yet in countries with legalised abortion Down’s Syndrome is a qualifying diagnosis to justify abortion, no questions being asked.
Who is calling for children to be ‘culled’ in families who hit on hard times? Yet some people are calling for abortion to be allowed if it is deemed a baby might put the mother under some mental stress in trying to look after the child.
Suicide. It seems to be accepted by both ‘sides’ of the argument at this stage that an abortion is not a treatment for suicidal tendencies  But how about just one hypothetical example to examine the ethics and thinking involved? Look at the recent spate of tragic suicides in Ireland apparently due to bullying – how would it be viewed if a victim of bullying demanded that their bully be executed, or else they themselves would commit suicide? It’s the same argument used to try to justify aborting the child of a pregnant woman claiming to be suicidal.

If somehow, magically, a ‘ foetus’ really does suddenly become a human being the moment it has fully come out of its mother’s body, before which it was just a bunch of non-living meat for the previous nine months, then none of the above questions really matter, do they? But really, is it not a bit medieval to think of a ‘ foetus’ in those terms, given what we now know about the development of life inside the mother’s body, before birth? It is easy to justify killing, if you can convince yourself that the thing you are killing is not entirely human, or, better still, some kind of parasite. That’s what the Nazis managed to do with the Jews in the 1940’s. They convinced themselves that Jews were ‘Untermenschen’, ‘sub-human’. That made it easy for them to justify doing what they did. This phenomenon has happened right down through history, where one group of people justifies its suppression or killing of another group of people by devising a propaganda that their victims are inferior and not deserving of the same rights.

It seems to me that the ‘Pro-choice’ proponents justify their aims by denying the fact that the ‘ foetus’ is in fact just a very small human being not yet old enough to be born. They don’t call for the ‘killing‘ of anything, no, that would cause too many questions to be asked. ‘Choice’ is a much more positive sounding word. Yet, the fact is, that the reality necessarily involves the killing of whatever that thing is inside its mother. It is alive. And the killing is gruesome, and bloody, but on a very tiny scale of size, which only the people who perform the abortion actually see. Very few people have ever had the ‘opportunity’ of seeing, either in real life or on video, the blood and tiny chopped body parts being removed through the mother’s vagina, but that is the hard unseen reality of what happens in an abortion ‘clinic’. And I'm not trying to be melodramatic here – that is simply the fact. And it happens to be an unpleasant fact. I think that a major element which makes it easy to gloss over is that it is unseen. The mother doesn't see what happens, the public don’t see. It’s not shown on TV. Killing and chopping up a thing which is only a few centimetres in size doesn't make nearly as obvious a mess as killing and chopping up a fully grown adult. The work of abortion is a bit like the work of a video-guided missile – it is remote, distant, one sees a building being blown up but one doesn't see any blood and one doesn't see the dead victims inside, and the ‘problem’ has been solved.

If the predicament of the human race should somehow change in the future to such an extent that our fundamental ideas of morality and right versus wrong change dramatically, then perhaps it may be deemed ‘right’ to kill certain people in certain circumstances. For example under growing pressures of population growth and dwindling resources perhaps society may move more in the direction of adopting eugenic practices like liquidating people who are old, infirm, disabled, unproductive, criminal, or whatever, and perhaps one day this type of action may be deemed by ‘society’ to be right, or at least acceptable.

But that is not where we are at now, and as far as I know, that is not where ‘pro-choice’ people claim we are at. We like to proclaim that our society has progressed to the stage where we recognise fundamental equal rights of all human beings regardless of race, or age, or gender. If one chooses to declare that human beings who are not yet born are unique in being the only section of the human race who have essentially no rights at all, then to me that is not logical, it is even hypocritical. Why don’t such people who propose their various justifications for the legitimacy of abortion in certain circumstances propose the same justifications, where ‘convenient’, to end the lives, post-birth, of people who tick the same boxes as those ‘ foetuses’. There are many people alive who would tick all of those boxes if the same arguments used by ‘pro-choice’ proponents were applied to them – disabled; doomed to a premature death due to some disorder or illness; a burden on society; a financial burden on the parents etc etc.

The reason for this ‘inconsistency of logic’ is perhaps, for some, that it is too radical to suggest the euthenising of what might be regarded as ‘unwanted’ people e.g. disabled/old etc etc, whereas it is nowadays quite acceptable, perhaps even fashionable, to be seen to be ‘pro-choice’ with respect to the ‘unborn’. However I suspect the main reason for the inconsistency of logic is that the vast majority of ‘pro-choicers’ simply do not accept the evidence pointing to the nature of life in the womb, and they simply do not regard it as a human life, (yet surely they must at least admit that this ‘thing’ is alive). Therefore, to them, killing a child in the womb is simply not the same as killing the child when it’s out of the womb.

For me, an argument about the rights and wrongs of abortion with someone with an opposing view of the ‘human-ness’ of the unborn child is as futile as an argument about the rights and wrongs of slavery with someone who genuinely believes that a Black African is inferior to a White European and may therefore legitimately be owned by the European as a slave. The argument cannot be won by either, unless the one concedes that the African is actually a full human being with equal rights, or unless the other gives in and says ‘OK those Africans are actually not quite human and therefore we may own them and do what we like with them’. This argument led to that most bloody civil war in the US, so it is easy to see how the debate on the abortion issue is likewise so divisive and fundamental. With abortion, the whole thing seems to boil down to whether the ‘ foetus’ is human and therefore deserves the rights of other humans. I have not yet ever heard a convincing argument that the ‘human’ foetus is not actually human at all……..

I consider myself lucky that I have never been faced with the dilemma of a child coming into my life which I perceived as a major threat to me. That is not to say that the children who I am now the father of were all ‘planned’! Nor does it mean that the prospect of a child coming into my life would not necessitate a certain change in lifestyle, or acceptance of new responsibilities. No person can expect to ‘plan’ their entire life ahead of them, whether with regard to children or anything else. I am lucky that my children were born healthy. However I would really like to think that if I were faced with the challenge of a disabled child, I would rise to that challenge, even if a disability were diagnosed before birth. But I haven't yet been presented with such a challenge, so all I can do is admire and empathise with all those who do find themselves faced with such challenges and who do their best to deal with them.

To me ‘abortion’ (de facto killing of child before birth) is simply fundamentally wrong, but it does present an easy ‘solution’ to a mere few of the many many challenges which we as humans face throughout the course of our lives. It is an easy solution, too easy, because the victims happen to be the only section of humanity who in our modern world truly have no voice, no means whatsoever to protest or rebel, whom nobody sees, who’s existence nobody is even aware of except their mothers and whoever their mothers choose to tell, and who are so small that their bodies can so easily be disposed of.


Podge Murphy said...

I'll leave a proper response to someone else, but just to say:

1:) The things that make us human are built up slowly over time, they don't appear as though by magic at conception. The blueprints are there, but destroying a blueprint isn't the same as destroying a building.

2:) Think about the things that make killing humans wrong but killing animals okay, or at least not as bad. It's our sentience that makes killing us such a crime, the beating of our hearts, etc. are just a life support system for that sentience. Religious get around this by claiming a soul is added at conception, we don't have that luxury, as we know the brain is the seat of that sentience.

3:) 'Abortion is like what the Nazi's did! 'I'm marking that off on my internet argument bingo card. ;-)

Aisling said...

Can you please consider the woman's rights?

Most "pro-life" posters run to the extreme of partial birth abortion in explaining why it is bad, but ignore entirely that the foetus impacts on the woman's fundamental human rights.

Any pregnancy creates an increased risk to a woman's health over not being pregnant.

Abortion is many many times safer than pregnancy in terms of risk to the woman's life let alone her health.

Mental health issues are horrible, but believe me they can be real so we cannot ignore them.

Two out of the three psych experts who appeared before the Committee on Health & Children(Patricia Casey aside) stated that they did not know how many women did not commit suicide because they could terminate their pregnancy by going to England.

Dr McCarthy gave evidence as to the huge numbers of pregnant suicides in the years up to it being legalised in the UK, although he rightly allowed that socio economic improvements may also have played a part. He also noted that coroners often times prefer to return an open or misadventure verdict rather than leave the family dealing with a death by suicide, so we don't have reliable numbers on that.

There are two potentially conflicting rights which need to be balanced, the right of the woman, and the rights of the foetus. To ignore one of them entirely makes your argument as facile as that of "pro-choice" posters who think abortion at 38 weeks should be a woman's choice.

Paul Moloney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Moloney said...

Hi David,

Where do you stand on the morning-after pill? Specifically, one which prevents implantation after fertilization?

Also, you compare abortion to murder directly above in various ways. Let's imagine that there was no only a ban on abortion but no way to access them. Therefore, rather than the "Irish solution to an Irish problem" we have now, women would be availing of illegal abortions or attempting to perform them on themselves. In that case, would you treat such attempts as murder? If not, why not?



dromahairdiary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dromahairdiary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dromahairdiary said...

If David considers that abortion is an easy solution ("It is an easy solution, too easy") he obviously does not, or would rather not, understand the dilemma of unwanted pregnancy, which he dismisses as something which "would.. necessitate a certain change in lifestyle, or acceptance of new responsibilities”. In fact, the entire post seems to be lacking in even basic concern for the well-being, physical or mental, of pregnant women. On the contrary, the sentiments expressed seem almost Youth Defence-like: sneering, condescending and completely lacking in empathy or compassion.

Galactor said...

The author began by impressing me with reference to a scientific background. I thought we might be in for a scientific foundation supporting why abortion is wrong.

But anyone who bases "life" on the moment of conception (and takes that as a scientificly grounded as opposed to a philospophically) and indeed, who bases arguments of morality surrounding abortion on the term "life" is digging themselves a deep, deep hole.

Would the author really categorize the seven day old group of around 100 cells, not yet attached to the uterine wall, as "life"? (Note the term *human* life.) Is the human blastocyst really worth more than a fully developed chimpanzee or cow? What about a cabbage? Is that life? Are those small differences in the order of DNA - the CTAG bases - between chimpanzees and humans so telling in what "life" is? And when does the difference in this order become so great that we start differentiating? What difference in morality should apply to a person's developed liver (plenty more advanced cells there, to be sure) and a clump of 100 cells? (advice: avoid answering from the "argument of potential" - that's long been disposed of).

Sorry, but the approach to define human life as a single cell of human DNA which is capable of dividing and developing has, amongst scientists and moral philosophers, long been trashed.

Further, the idea that human life only begins at birth (as opposed to conception) is absurd. I don't know if there is anyone who would consider this as at all reasonable. Personally, I would call the abortion of a baby one day prior to its birth, murder.

The author may have abandoned religious belief despite his upbringing and I am in admiration of that. But the line of reasoning that "life" begins at conception does not withstand the tiniest scrutiny. I would guess that most abortion laws are based upon a deeper understanding of where the foetus is in its development; for example: does it have a nervous system yet?

The fact that Geoff has found a person who is doubtful of the claims of the religious and who holds (non-natural) termination of (human) cellular life, in even its earliest forms, to be immoral and wrong has not unfortunately, substantiated the pro-life cause. I suspect that there are plenty of people who have just not thought the issue through - some are religious, some not. The religious have every right to use non-religious argumentation for their positions - but conception is not a good one upon which to base a position.

Jill said...

Galactor - might you suggest a better time we use for when life begins? I think this is really the crux of the issue honestly for most people.
There are of course people who do argue that we can kill infants outside the womb because they are not yet a person either - Peter Singer being the most obvious example. I am in no way trying to imply that is your thinking, since you stated that abortion one day before birth is murder. I just think the main issue is where we draw the line, where we think the fetus is merely cells with potential versus actual human life. The answer to this isn't scientific.

As an aside there are of course other people who uphold choice as the most important factor and thus accept abortion for any reason up until birth including things like gender selection. While I vehemently disagree with those people, I respect that they take their underlying principle to the end.

As I've said here before, I would argue life begins at contraception because I cannot find another time point in human development that satisfies me. I've been open that this belief leads me to some uncomfortable places - if it's life, then the circumstances of conception alone do not trump it in my view for instance. This is my thinking and I work hard to uphold this belief and these principles in my personal life.
Yet as Aisling points out, there will always be hard cases, and in those a balancing of the rights of both the mother and the fetus/baby are necessary. This is simply the reality whether one greatly desires a utopian world of life or choice or whatever. We routinely do this in cases of pre-eclampsia and pregnancy induced pulmonary hypertension all the time for instance, we just don't think of it in a similar way because of how both sides like to paint this issue. Life is imperfect at best, maddeningly complicated at worst.

It is for this reason that I do not belong to pro-life organizations or vote on this as a sole issue (in case anyone doesn't know, I'm American). As societies we ask our governments to do the best they can upholding the rights of competing forces all the time and the "debate" should be focused more on how best to do that - even as we can all be honest about what our underlying principles are and where our biases lay. And why, regardless of what side you're on, we should never, ever judge the women and men who have personal experience in this regard. I have never been pregnant, but I have walked with many women down that path. Absolutely nothing about it is easy even when it's planned and greatly desired.

Katherine said...


No, but seriously, just a few points:

I'm not surprised our poster has never heard a compelling argument for the 'humanity' (or lack of) of a foetus. Nor have I! The distinction made in many US debates is between 'life' and 'personhood'. Not 'life' and 'human life' - what does that even mean? Obviously a human is human as soon as it exists in any form, the question is surely whether they are a person, and hence whether they deserve legal protection. This distinction is important for many, and why I personally consider viability outside the womb as such a big factor, since only bodily independence from the mother can distinguish a separate person (in my view).

Second one is just a pet-hate, but seriously I get really mad when people say that they have abandoned church teachings but still believe in certain basics tenets because they are 'fundamental truths'. They sure are fundamental truths - of religion! If you believe them, don't dare to claim that your belief stems from some universal knowledge. You were raised with certain truths, in this case, through the church. Even if you still support them, others were raised differently, and their truth is different. Judging people by your moral standard is fine to do for yourself - but would you accept somebody else's personal sense of morality governing YOUR life?

Finally - yes okay, understand this view, abortion shouldn't be an easy option etc. However the post makes no answer as to what happens in the case of FATAL foetal abnormality, nor in the case of an immediate risk to the life of the mother, let alone a real and substantive (but not immediate) one. So... thoughts on legislation?

Qaoileann said...

As other commenters have pointed out, David does not appear to have considered the rights of the pregnant person here at all. Which is disturbing, but not surprising.

And another consideration is legal. You can have pro-life/anti-choice beliefs all you like, but it's when anti-choice people make laws enshrining their beliefs that I have a problem. Does the author believe that all terminations of pregnancy should be illegal? Even under the terms of the X-case?

droid said...

Nothing to add except to note that this post is disappointingly dismal. Surely there must be an articulate pro-life atheist out there with a decent argument?

Jill said...

Thanks to the kind twitter follower who pointed out I said contraception instead of conception. Can't google figure out a way to edit comments?

Galactor said...

"Galactor - might you suggest a better time we use for when life begins?"

I think we are on shaky ground when we use the term "life" and posit that it "begins" as some such time. I hoped to have made that clear in my initial critique. Clearly, the being that is being supported in the womb in the first few days and weeks is not a baby; it just isn't in any sense. After eight months it most definitely is. How do we find the point in between when the cellular life takes on a form which is deserving of human rights? That is a question which our moral philosophers have largely answered with recourse to scientific positions (and without recourse to a religious framework) of whether there exists a nervous system or not and upon which the many secular laws surrounding abortion are developed and ratified.

"I think this is really the crux of the issue honestly for most people."

I doubt it. For religious people, I think the issue is largely doctrinal. For some non-religious people, the issue is rational and the underpinning science is used to determine a moral stance and override emotional feelings; for others, the emotion seems to take over.

The term "life" when used to support ethics surrounding abortion is a dead dog. It's as worthless as calling the termination of seven day cellular blastocycts "killing".

"There are of course people who do argue that we can kill infants outside the womb because they are not yet a person either - Peter Singer being the most obvious example. "

I'm going to avoid responding in depth to this remark but I think you put his position as dangerously simplistic by saying "we can kill infants". I have no idea why you refer to the moral philosopher Peter Singer in addressing my post. I explicitly stated that termination after latter pregnancy stages (where nervous systems exist) would be murder which you acknowledge.

"I just think the main issue is where we draw the line, where we think the fetus [sic] is merely cells with potential versus actual human life. The answer to this isn't scientific."

The foetus, IS, "merely" cells with potential for greater complexity for a large period of development. It just IS. And to call it *merely* is not to demean the biological process which concerns the formation of life. Clearly, morals and ethics can be formed and informed by scientific knowledge.

"As I've said here before, I would argue life begins at contraception [sic]"

You mean of course, conception and I would have thought to have exposed that as destroyed by the merest scrutiny of the biological facts applied to any moral code we might share about preventing sentient beings being exposed to pain, for example. A blastocyst is not a child nor a baby nor a feeling, thinking being. It just isn't. And calling these things "life" is vacuous. Cabbages are life! The ebola virus is life!

For sure, ethics surrounding abortion are complex although I would argue that they are made unnecessarily complex largely by people who think that a clump of cells represents "life" worthy of human rights.

Rory McCann said...

If life begins at conception with unique DNA, then what about identical twins? Are they 1 life or 2? (Modern society & law says 2). But then how does that 1 fertilized egg turn into 2 human lives? What about conjoined twins? They share one physical body (some even share a brain). 2 lives or 1? If one life can turn 2 lives, then what about the treatment for multiple personalities? Is that murder? Surely this are the logical conclusions of "life at conception".

Rory McCann said...

You state that you cannot say when else aside from conception that life starts, so it must be conception. Do you apply such reduction to adulthood? When does adulthood start? When should people be allowed vote, enter contracts, consent to sex etc? What's the difference between an 18 year old and a 17 year, 11 month, 25 day old? Nothing! Do you presume that adulthood starts at birth? Or conception? When else can it start? Right?

Where does the sky start? 1 m above the ground? 100 m? 1 km? Can I fly an aeroplane low? If I have a hovercraft, can I trespass onto your property if I float 1 cm above the ground? What's the difference between 999.9 m and 1,000 m? Nothing! So the sky *must* start at the ground! Right?

You're attempting to be logical about conception & life, and have concluded that life begins at conception. Do you apply this same logical extremism to other fields (adulthood, the sky, etc.)? If not why not?

Jill said...

I'm sorry you both took my comments aggressively apparently. That was not my intent. I apologize for my use of life in two different contexts.

Things are either alive or not. There isn't really a middle ground (prions maybe being the only example?). So I believe you can determine a start to life, because something either is, or is not, alive. The ebola virus is alive until it's not. The cabbage as well.

My question was an effort at distinguishing when, for lack of a better word, that life should matter enough that we give it the rights we give people outside the womb. I am curious, sincerely, of your thoughts. As to when these rights start, there is no scientific answer, but we do our best to figure it out. We have laws for when people can drive, vote etc. We create lines in the sand all the time and most people seem to think that is the most important question. If a day old collection of cells is not human life worthy of rights, but a day before birth baby is - where does the change occur that distinguishes the two? I have not found a satisfying answer to this, so I err on the side of conception. I bring up Peter Singer because he takes the question further and elucidates what I mean. Do we ascribe these rights to people at some point before birth, at birth or at some point after birth. Is it the same for all, or do other things matter (is Downs Syndrome a justifiable reason for abortion or not)?

From your responses I imagine my answers to the above would vary significantly from yours. But I am not here to argue. I sincerely am curious your thoughts and have tried to be clear in mine. The discussion is interesting and one I think more valuable initially than focusing in solely on one or two cases and the circumstances surrounding them. You all are free to disagree.

TychaBrahe said...

You can be opposed to abortion all you want. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Because every study shows that making abortion illegal does nothing to reduce the number of abortions. My problem is that people who are "pro-life" are frequently against all thing things that we know actually reduce the number of abortions: comprehensive sex education, wide availability of multiple methods of birth control, social programs that provide support to pregnant women and families with young children, support for gay adoption, and having a sex positive culture.

If you want to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies, then I'm all for it. While I want to live in a society where women have the right to seek abortions, I'd much rather live in one where women rarely feel the need for one. But if you think you can write a law that makes abortion illegal and thereby SAVE UNBORN BABIES, you're either dreaming or a misogynist, and possibly both.

Jill said...

Tycha - can you link any of those studies? I don't know how such an outcome could actually be studied, so I'm curious how they did it.

Prolife people and the prolife "position" (to the extent their is one...) are very different things. People are bundles of contradictions and tend to be selfish and shortsighted. The data suggests we have made some inroads, but even with all that you mention we have and likely will always have a huge number of unplanned pregnancies.

Galactor said...

I am mortified if I have been at all aggressive in answering Jill's post and would apologise if so.

"Things are either alive or not. "

I think this must be my third attempt at saying that the use of the terminology "life" in helping us form ethics surrounding the termination of it, is insufficient. It's too ambiguous and broad as a terminology and we clearly abhor certain forms of it like bacteria that give us diarrhoea.

"My question was an effort at distinguishing when, for lack of a better word, that life should matter enough that we give it the rights we give people outside the womb. "

Now we're talking.

"As to when these rights start, there is no scientific answer, but we do our best to figure it out. "

Science informs us. Science tells us that at some stage, a foetus will have pain sensation. Science (psychology) tells us why we can feel empathy for a foetus which is beginning to show the human form. Science can show us why we feel that a helpless foetus deserves protection. And then we need to figure it out indeed and discard the emotion or agree that the emotion should persuade us.

"If a day old collection of cells is not human life worthy of rights, but a day before birth baby is - where does the change occur that distinguishes the two? "

Indeed, this is the question that we must try to answer and I eluded to an answer on my previous comment.

But the "moment of conception" position, the starting point of the original blog post, is just not suitable; it doesn't survive scrutiny.

"From your responses I imagine my answers to the above would vary significantly from yours. But I am not here to argue. I sincerely am curious your thoughts and have tried to be clear in mine. The discussion is interesting and one I think more valuable initially than focusing in solely on one or two cases and the circumstances surrounding them. You all are free to disagree. "

I am also persuaded by emotional arguments; we are, after all emotional creatures and I was rather hoping that the blogpost would use this line of reasoning, open and honestly. But when the emotional approach encroaches on other people, meaning the rights of other people who just happen to have wombs, we are once again on shaky ground when we start imposing the outcomes of our emotions on their individual rights.

Jill said...

Galactor - thanks for your response. I did not feel your initial comments to me were aggressive, I felt you were trying to argue back at what I said, rather than discuss in good faith. Hence my concern that my comments were seen as aggressive and my apologies if they were.

I was/am using life in a philosophical sense - when are the rights bestowed. But I vehemently disagree that we cannot determine if something is simply alive or not. The salmonella is alive. The fetus is alive. When it has developed enough to be consider human is my question, and one that I still haven't heard a good answer to. You have alluded to things that we should consider, which I have, but I do not see your answer (unless I missed it?). I do not maintain that something, by virtue of being alive, has rights akin to ours. I maintain that I am uncomfortable with all other points on the human developmental spectrum and thus have settled on conception as when I think those rights should be bestowed to the human embryo --> human fetus --> human baby. I've also said before and will say again I value all human life above all other life forms.

Working backwards: If not at birth, then when? When the fetus can feel pain? When the fetus can survive outside the womb? 12 weeks? When the heart starts beating? When the cells implant? I have, after much consideration and study found that none of the above markers work in my opinion, for reasons I'm happy to discuss should anyone care: my email is jill.haltigan@gmail.com

I'm not sure how my responses were emotional, other than saying that despite my opinions I realize that there are complicated circumstances and have tremendous empathy for those individuals. Please point this out so I can refrain from that in the future as I do not intend to discuss this matter in such a way. If you are referring to my using the word killing with regards to Peter Singer, what term should I use? To kill does not imply to murder, at least to me, but if others felt that was my implication I will clarify here it was not.

I'll keep reading and listening but refrain from commenting further here!

Lounsey said...

If the unborn are to have the same rights as born people, then why should an unborn person have the right to be inside the body of another or use their body without the person's consent when no born person has that right?

What you are advocating is a special class of rights where the unborn are allowed to infringe on the bodily autonomy of another when other people aren't....

I've heard it argued that by having consensual sex you are giving consent to carry a fetus for 9 months, but that is, to be honest, a pretty 'rapey' sentiment to express in my opinion. Consent for one thing with your body does not equal consent for other things. Consent has to be actively and constantly given, and if I don't want to have somebody inside my body I can't see why I should be compelled to.

Qaoileann said...

Jill - I'm not sure about evidence all the items on Tycha's list, but the Guttmacher institute certainly lists availability of effective contraception as a contributor to lower abortion rates.

http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html (papers cited on this page)

In studies in the USA, free contraception has been shown to lower the unintended pregnancy rate (and therefore abortion rate): http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/05/study-free-birth-control-significantly-cuts-abortion-rates/

Lorraine Mac Rory said...

Others have mentioned fatal diagnoses, pre-eclampsia, ectopic pregnancies, cancer treatment and other conditions that medically indicate abortion so I won't go there...(tho I'd love to here David's response)

I agree, David, that human life begins at conception. However - how can we give an unborn baby "human rights". For one thing it doesn't need most of them. For another - even the declaration of human rights states that the enforcement of one person's rights cannot infringe on another's - they must be balanced.

The very nature of pregnancy (if unwanted or high risk) immediately infringes on some basic human rights. Thankfully most women accept the risks to their health and even life because they want a baby. But imagine the horror of something you don't want growing inside you - ruining your life/health a little more every day while your panic increases? Suicide is actually the leading cause of maternal death in Ireland (women wait until the baby is born then do it).

A foetus is dramatically different from a disabled person who needs round the clock care - it is essentially a parasite. It feeds from the woman's body in order to grow. As The Life Institute like to say.......we can treat different situations differently!

Whether a human in its parasitic stage has an "equal right to life" as all other born humans is actually the question. What if its host doesn't wish to be fed from for 9 months (a health, body and mind altering and life threatening 9 months)?

If a foetus has an absolute right to life then the Church is right that we must let both mother and baby die if killing the baby is the only way to save the mother. I can't accept that situation, so immediately it can't have an "equal" right to life.

The rights of an unborn baby must be balanced with the woman's rights. To me the question is then "who should be valued more?" The answer to me is anyone who has made it to viability outside the womb should be valued more than those who haven't. It is estimated that up to 80% of fertilised eggs don't make it to birth (natural loss) - we can't start giving them all equal rights to children and adults who have made it.

On another tangent - we expect women to shrug off early pregnancy loss and not cry over having their periods 4 days late when they were hoping for a pregnancy, then we point fingers and call them murderers if they deliberately induce their delayed periods because they don't want to be pregnant? Hypocrisy anyone? Does the early miscarriage have equal rights or not - thoroughly unworkable in the harsh reality of a woman's reproductive system isn't it?

I wonder how many men actually consider these issues? How many men have cried over the appearance of some blood in the bathroom or panicked and contemplated the ending of life as he knows it because of the non-appearance of blood in the bathroom? 80% are lost naturally. Life and death in our monthly cycles.....and we rarely speak about it.

As long as the unborn baby can exist only as a parasite then I believe a woman should have the right to decide she cannot cope with that situation, and if that is her choice she should have the right to a safe, legal abortion.

After all - studies have shown that legalising abortion only increases the number of safe, legal abortions. Without legal abortion, desperate women will find a way.

Geoff said...

I love the way these excellent comments make any contribution of mine redundant. Great to have attracted such readership. Do continue; I'm quite enjoying.

SurvivorFan said...

As a staunchly pro-life atheist myself, I love any time I see an article from a fellow pro-life atheist.

SurvivorFan said...

As a staunchly pro-life atheist myself, I love any time I see an article from a fellow pro-life atheist.

Jill said...

May I break my rule to jump in one more time:

"If a foetus has an absolute right to life then the Church is right that we must let both mother and baby die if killing the baby is the only way to save the mother. I can't accept that situation, so immediately it can't have an "equal" right to life."

This is of course not the Church teaching, as it would represent a callous disregard for life that is never acceptable to Catholicism. In these instances the principle of double effect takes over. The fetus is never permitted to be directly killed (colloquially meant as "abortion" by most), but actions can be taken that result in inevitable death of the fetus by natural causes if done with the good intent of saving the mother's life. To many I know this is silly theological nonsense. But to me, as a Catholic and a physician, it's of the utmost importance. As a Catholic I believe that all life is precious and has equal inherent dignity. As it's all we've got I aim to protect it. As a physician, I simply will not kill someone when my job is to promote and protect life. Obviously though, I have seen death at every stage of life, from 20 weeks to 97 years, and know it's inevitable at times regardless of our best efforts. While I will never be involved with physician assisted suicide, I am a huge proponent of comfort care and have hasted death numerous times by prescribing higher doses of morphine for terminal patients in pain.


Lorraine Mac Rory said...

hi Jill, I'm a little confused as to how the law of double effect allows for the unborn baby to be deliberately removed from its mother's womb knowing it can't survive outside the womb - if this is what's required to save the mother? for example isn't the Catholic teaching that if an ectopic pregnancy is to be "treated" then the entire fallopian tube must be removed as the embryo cannot be directly aborted?

Lorraine Mac Rory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine Mac Rory said...

here's a link where they refer to necessary medical treatment being permissible but not direct abortion. that seems pretty clear that if direct abortion (the deliberate removal of an unviable foetus for example) is the only way to saved the mother then it is not permitted. http://www.catholicapologetics.info/morality/abortion/abortion.htm

Ógra Átha Cliath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oisín said...

This piece proves you don't have to be an catholic to be anti-choice. You just have to disregard women from the equation completely which is handy for some catholics but doesn't make catholicism essential.

Giz said...

I do find it disappointing that someone who makes repeated references to logic, relies so heavily on fallacy to make their argument.

The misleading vividness of the late term abortions was what got to me, it read straight from that "Silent Scream" propoganda and Abort 67, and does not apply to 91% of abortions, the fallacy of composition - mistaking the parts for the whole, coupled with overly emotive language which disguises the weakness of the argument.
Does the author have an objection to DNC procedure after a late term miscarriage? As this is essentially the same thing.

As for when life begins, life began a few million years back and it has kept on rolling ever since, to paraphrase George Carlin.. Life is a continuum, for this reason to base this argument around attempting to define its start point is completely illogical. I would echo what others have said - it should be about personhood. Perhaps the capability of existence ex utero?

I too find the absence of any consideration of the woman quite disturbing. As much as this poster may wish to ignore her existence, it is her body that is required to incubate this foetus. So many anti choice arguments seem to ignore the pregnancy. That 9 months of carrying a baby around inside you, and all the things that go along with it. In the same way that the anti choice side will say that we do not give due consideration to the foetus, the anti choice side seem to deny the existence of the task that they seek to force upon women who find themselves pregnant against their wishes.
But which one of these beings deserves precedence? Well, as one literally cannot live without the other I think nature has given us our answer.

Without access to safe and legal abortion we put already living women's lives in danger. The only thing making abortion illegal does is make it unsafe. It does not stop it, it merely turns a blind eye to it, exports it, and ignorance is no excuse. If a woman does not wish to be pregnant she will find a way. We owe it to our women - slightly more than half our population, to respect their personal wishes - whether that be to have a baby or not. But more importantly we need to educate and use contraception to prevent as many unwanted pregnancies as possible.