Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who Is More Reasonable?

It's often hard to have a dispassionate conversation about legislating on X, and one could be forgiven for thinking that those against abortion rights in Ireland have chosen to capitalise on this. The language used is selected for its ability to elicit an emotional response - for fetus they say unborn child, for blastocyst they say person with potential, and to describe the debate we're currently almost having they use the term literal tsunami of death. Their choice of images also falls foul of this criticism - be it faked pictures of late-term abortions or smiling, cherub-like babies the appeal to emotion is obvious.

True, facts are used, but more often than not they're flat out wrong. Pro Life Campaign's most recent video culminates in an impassioned speech saying that Ireland is the world leader in maternal healthcare. Now I see no need to rest on such laurels and avoid providing doctors with the legal clarity needed to perform lifesaving operations, but a more significant counterargument is that their statement is untrue. We are not the world leader in maternal healthcare, a fact that can hardly have escaped those behind Pro Life Campaign, and it's hard to take them seriously when such gross inaccuracies are present. It would be like their chairperson forgetting they were in a video with a group that promotes gay conversion 'therapy' while falsely associating vaccinations and autism.

These groups tend to say they represent the majority opinion in Ireland despite 64% of Irish people favouring legislation on X. It's also instructive to note that their supporters on Twitter seem overwhelmingly to be American Republicans, not to my mind a group that should have significant representation in Irish affairs.

Inaccuracies and misstatements aside, is there a downside to leaning on emotional argument? I think there is.

An emotional argument's ability to change one's mind is not notably dependent on the argument being true. The Make It Happen Foundation, for instance, use images of sick children visiting Santa Claus in Lapland to solicit donations. This can be an effective emotional appeal, but if you look at how the funds are raised and where they go you might find yourself less convinced of their good intentions. Reason trumps emotional appeal. (If you're unconvinced, I highly recommend philosopher Stephen Law's blog post on the subject.)

I find myself wondering if I am immune to such criticism. I suppose that rather depends on what I'm doing here. A confession is in order. I am pro choice, but I was not pro choice when I started writing these posts. Had anyone asked during the first three or so I would have called myself pro life with various caveats. Over time I realised that those caveats effectively made me pro choice, and my views have shifted somewhat further the more I've read. At the outset I honestly hadn't given the subject sufficient thought. My interest in the debate was sparked by a dislike of misrepresentations by groups opposed to abortion in Ireland. My desire was to show that, in influences, association and funding, they owed more to American Republicanism than the Irish Republic.

If I'm viewed as primarily advancing the pro choice position there may be a gap. That anti abortion groups have unsavory connections, advance incorrect arguments, take funding from outside the State and are not representative of majority Irish opinion does not guarantee that they are wrong, even if it can reasonably cause one to raise an eyebrow. Have I been trying to plug that gap with emotional argument? I'm interested in your thoughts. Though either way, I will be trying to make a more positive case for being pro choice in future blog posts.


Alistair said...

Emotions are the curse of the Human species, but they are also a blessing. Who would sacrifice the joy of friendship or the love of a little child? Yet who would want to endure the pain of grief or the unrelenting ache of unrequited love? Mature debate should indeed not resort to emotional manipulation. It happens on both sides of the abortion question.

Jill said...

This is an interesting post in light of your last one Geoff. Emotion to me reflects passion, and if you can't be passionate in a debate about rights this personal and intrinsic, then frankly you should check your pulse.

Emotion though, does not mean one is irrational even though some are, or at times anyone may come off that way. And, as the above poster already pointed out, both sides are guilty of that.

One could have easily written this post and detailed how pro-choice people ignore the biology of reproduction and ignore men in this discussion because they don't have a uterus. Or how they presume "anti-choice" people are all right win religious zealots intent on making everyone else comply to their ridiculous morals. Or how pro-choice groups like to say they speak "on behalf of all women" when they do not, and how they use a woman's face without her permission to argue for a procedure that according to the medical facts thus far she did not have to have. Talk about an appeal to emotion!!

But of course, in either situation the blogger would be ignoring the diversity of opinions that make up either side. Also, there is a ton of misinformation on the pro-life side, but if you haven't noticed it coming from the pro-choice side too you're just not paying attention.

I really sincerely appreciate Geoff that you are willing to admit your caveats made you pro-choice. This is an issue I have with many pro-life people who make exceptions for rape and incest (the common phrasing used here).

I am pro-life because I believe that the unborn child is just as much a human as I am, and is thus worthy of the same protection we strive to afford to everyone else. I am pro-life from conception onward because I cannot find any good way to otherwise distinguish when these rights should be bestowed on the child. 12 weeks? Viability? Sentience? Development of nervous system? Keep in mind that dating of pregnancy can be fairly inaccurate. Because I think the child is worthy of these rights, I cannot make exceptions based on the circumstances of the conception.
Maybe this all makes me callous, unrealistic, misogynist etc. This is the one thing that has been a constant in my life. Regardless of where my faith has been (and I assure you, it's been more over the map than anyone could guess) I have always been pro-life. There was a time when first dealing personally with some of those horrible cases that play on our emotions that I found myself trying to make excuses. "Well in this situation it's ok because..." But while it's understandable, it's not ok to me. Life is not pretty, it is not easy and it is not perfect. We have principles nonetheless. I think it's wrong. I think there's always a better way. (And please note that I personally am considering abortion here in the colloquial way - as in a procedure designed to destroy the fetus - not in the medical way.)

Now of course, plenty of people will disagree with all I've written above. And Ireland should decide for herself what her laws should be. But this is where I'm coming from. People really need to think about this issue, and where they stand, and whether circumstances mitigate things or not. I would say that the vast majority of people who talk about this have not even begun to think it through. And that is the most important thing about discussing it - not to play gotcha games, but to challenge people to follow their principles through and see if they're comfortable where they end up.

Jill said...

Felt I should add, the one overarching thing that colors my viewpoint is I believe, even if there is no God, that all life has meaning.

Jill said...

WIth Paul's permission, I thought I'd share this post as an example of someone who takes his underlying principle and follows it through, even if it leads to some uncomfortable end points. Definitely worth a read.

Aisling said...

One of the problems here is that both sides start with a logical fallacy and work from there. On the pro choice side it is the woman's absolute right to bodily integrity, on the pro life side it is the foetus' absolute right to life.

The reality is that both rights exist and are deserving of some protection, but both rights are not equal, not even in the delivery room and not even in the eyes of the most die hard pro-lifer. If they were then it would be common place for doctors to do a caesarian on a woman bleeding out to save the infant but certainly kill the woman. It is not, all efforts are made to protect the woman at the potential expense of the child. Our maternal mortality rates are greatly lower than our infant mortality rates.

So even at that late stage the rights of the woman are still paramount, even if the equation is just 50.0001% vs 49.9999%. As a society I think we all agree on that.

The Supreme Court and the ECHR have both agreed that forcing a woman to remain pregnant is a breach of her rights, but they determined that that breach can be permissible where society determines that it is for the greater good.

The reality is that we have a sliding scale. Given the legality of the morning after pill we as a society are okay with the woman having bodily autonomy in the days after a potential conception, most of us would be aghast if she could have that same bodily autonomy in the moments prior to giving birth.

Most of us are also aghast at the notion that a woman could be forced to continue a pregnancy which has fatal foetal abnormalities.

Why? Because there is no hard line that we can draw here. We all recognise that there are two rights which need protection, two rights which conflict, and the facts and circumstances need to be considered in balancing those rights. If the foetus has no chance of life then that negates the value attributable to its right to life to most of us, relative to the rights of the woman.

If the foetus is healthy and near delivery then that means that its rights should be protected in so far as is possible relative to the rights of the women.

But the rights are not equal. None of us view the rights as being equal which is why Art 40.3.3 is a nonsense.

The respective rights must be balanced, which is a tough thing for doctors, legislatures and even the judiciary to manage. But just because it is tough does not mean that it should not be attempted.

Let's try to bring this debate back to where it belongs and ignore the extremist positions on both sides.

There are two potentially conflicting rights here, but they are not equal, their respective weights may be impacted by facts and circumstances, and they need to be balanced against each other.

To ignore one or other right is to start this argument from the wrong place. This cannot be black and white, it is doomed to be all manner of shades of grey.

Alistair said...

A very thoughtful, helpful and balanced comment, Aisling. Thank you. One small point - subsequent to my own misconception (pun intended) I have discovered that the 'morning after pill' is not an abortifacient but an extra high dose of oral contraceptive that merely prevents ovulation. I think this is widely misunderstood.

Aisling said...

Alastair, you know I'm not sure that the mechanism of the MAP really matters. More the fact that we as a society are okay with it, even if we're okay with a misunderstanding of how it works.

Posters like Jill have set out what I would refer to as a "pure" "pro-life" position, well reasoned and consistent (Thanks Jill) but I don't think that that reflects the majority position in Ireland.

Recalling the X case people wanted that girl to be able to terminate her pregnancy, if that was what she needed. And the UK is there for us.

We want to pretend to take the moral high ground, while as Catherine McGuinness pointed out to the Committee on Health and Children, we also voted to allow access to information and travel which would be inconsistent with a "pure" pro-life stance.

We want the UK to give us the opportunity to deal with the hard cases, rather than facing up to the reality that thousands of Irish women have terminations, for whatever reason, every year.

We don't talk about it, many don't think about it properly, and we retain laws which are offensive to women's rights because we don't acknowledge that a pregnant woman or girl has rights to bodily integrity.

Just faced with a raped teenager, and without explaining why our position differs from Jill's, we want her to be able to terminate.

The answer I would posit is not the traditional feminist argument that allowing abortion in cases of rape underscores a contempt for women since only the woman who is "not at fault" for getting pregnant is allowed a termination. This may once have been true, but not any more.

I think it is rather that we view that child's rights as having already been violated by the rape, and thus the continued violation of those rights by the foetus, gets balanced against the (in this case lesser) right to life that an early foetus would have.

We dress it up as suicidal intent or whatever, and that might be real. But I don't think most of us would expect that child or her parents to wait until she is suicidal. Absent the removal of 40.3.3. and balanced fair legislation on this we'd expect her parents to bring her to the UK.

Galactor said...

Jill writes that she is "pro-life from the moment of conception".

Does Jill think that a seven day old clump of (around 100) cells, not yet attached to the uterine wall, really deserving of the status of life and humanity?

Would she value these cells above the conglomerate cells of a living cow? Or a chimpanzee perhaps?

Is the clump of cells more special because their order of DNA coding matches hers more closely than other creatures?

Jill said...


Galactor - Yes, without question I find the seven day old clump of cells to be deserving of status of life. I find this in large part because I reject all other notions of when "life" begins. Do you have a suitable definition I might consider?

I value all human life above all animal life. Period.