Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Am I Pro Choice?

I promised in an earlier post to provide some positive arguments for the pro choice position. It won't be possible to cover all cases and scenarios in one sitting, but allow me to make a start. This change of material may be spectacularly ill-judged. I have something of a niche in Twitter analysis and (dare I say it) investigative research, undoubtedly the primary draw to this corner of the internet, and switching to an area in which I hold no special skill may lose me a follower or two.

Do stick around though. I have something special planned for the end of the week involving a considerable number of pie charts.

What Is Pro Choice?

To my mind the population is divided into those who feel a woman's reproductive cycle should be governed by society, and those who feel that individuals of the female persuasion are best placed to make decisions involving their own bodies. I consider the latter pro choice, and the former anti choice. It is only fair to remark that the anti choice grouping contains subgroups that would likely violently oppose each other. Supporters of China's one child policy with its attendant forced abortions clearly favour state control of wombs. Closer to home but further back in time, those who wished to restrict child benefit payments for third and subsequent children of Northern Irish parents mixed an urge to influence women's reproductive wishes with their anti-Catholic bias. Societies that pressure women to have abortions or commit infanticide until they are pregnant with a male are similarly an anathema to the pro choice position. They belong rightly on the side of those who judge reproduction unsuitable for a woman to govern without outside intervention.
Separate and distinct to these examples are those who feel abortion should be restricted to the fullest extent possible, generally in the belief that, once fertilised, an ovum should attain the rights we associate with persons. It is clear that they belong in the camp of those who feel opposed to women having ultimate control of their uteri, but also clear that they are separate in motivation, aims and goals. With the possible exception of restricting child benefit, those who oppose abortion would strongly condemn others in the anti choice camp.

Let's Start With The Easy Stuff.

I think we should support people who choose to have children. Pure selfish self interest buoys me considerably here - I like the idea of young potential taxpayers. I like the idea that when I reach retirement, some time in my 80's, there will be a replacement population of workers ready to maintain the state. I think parenting is an important job and anything we can do to ease financial burdens on those willing to apply yields a remarkable rate of return over a few short decades. A woman forced to delay or inhibit a desire to start a family for financial reasons has not made a choice, she has been denied one.

I support proper accommodation and support of primary care givers following the birth of their children. I've met some inspiring stay at home dads and it's a choice more couples are making, but in general, for now, we're talking about women here. Again my argument works equally well to a heartless monster - to deny women reasonable maternity support is to deny half the nation's population access to full participation in the workforce. I can think of no surer way of catapulting Ireland down the leagues of living standards than to jettison an entire gender. And again, a woman forced to delay or inhibit a desire to have a child to maintain her career cannot be said to have made a choice. She has been denied one.

I oppose shaming of pregnant single women. At a recent pro choice meeting I met a man whose mother was single at the time of conception. Rather than bring shame on the family she was pressured to take the boat to England, as was the euphemism of the time. Instead, she extended two fingers and chose to continue the pregnancy. This attitude lives on: a prominent story included a priest branding Olympic medallist Sonia O'Sullivan a "common slut" for being an unmarried mother. Last year a school refused education to a teenager who'd chosen to continue her pregnancy in a letter which included the phrase: "The school has an uncompromising ethos and will not become a dumping ground".  If a woman is pressured into having an abortion by a judgemental society she has not made a choice. She has been denied one.

On Life And Death

Unlike attendees at Ireland's recent #Vigil4Life, I support the introduction of long overdue legislation to give medical professionals the legal clarity required to perform therapeutic abortions where the life of a woman is at risk. I'm unaware of an internally consistent argument against this stance.

A Risk To Health

Humanisticus wrote eloquently and with emotion on the case of a 13 year old Peruvian girl. Suicidal after becoming pregnant by rape, she jumped from her neighbour's roof. The fall was not far enough. She broke her neck. Considerable advances have been made in spinal rehabilitation but early intervention is crucial. Her treatment was incompatible with continuing the pregnancy and, despite Peru granting women a right to health in their abortion legislation, the doctors refused to operate until the eventual miscarriage. Only then would they provide the treatment that could have, if administered at the right time, ameliorated the damage. She's now in a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms. It's important to note that there is no provision for the protection of women's health in Irish abortion law.

I asked myself if I could value a small, brainless clump of cells against this teenager's desire to live a normal life. I could not. Could you? Where would a line be drawn? What disability should we judge as an acceptable cost, despite the woman's wishes? I feel I cannot wrest this decision from a woman and her medical team.

On Mental Health

I oppose the division between mental health in this debate in much the same way I would oppose a distinction between upper body health and lower body health. Mental health is real and will not vanish if proven inconvenient. Attempts to relegate or exclude it are offensive throwbacks to an era I hope we're leaving behind.

Pregnancy Without Consent

Imagine you've been kidnapped. You awake, finding yourself strapped to a medical device which is also connected to a man you recognise as a famous violinist. A letter at your side explains that your blood group is an exact match for his. His kidneys are failing, and a deranged fan, without the violinist's knowledge, has kidnapped you and turned you into a human dialysis machine. The letter assures you that after nine months' captivity the violinist will be permanently returned to health and you will be released. You see that the door has accidentally been left open.

Should you have the right to choose to leave?

I've yet to meet someone who says no, yet this situation is a close analogue to pregnancy where consent was not given. I support the right of women to choose abortion - or not - in this situation.

Fatal Foetal Abnormality

Pregnancy is the most public private experience a woman is likely to have. It is not something easily hidden and as friends, family and colleagues observe changes they will undoubtedly offer well-intentioned enthusiasm and congratulations. I cannot imagine the heartbreak this would cause to someone who knows their foetus will not survive outside the womb. There are those in such situations who would continue with the pregnancy, perhaps hoping against hope, perhaps accepting of the diagnosis but still valuing the time they have. I respect and admire their choice, but equally I respect the choice of a woman who feels abortion is the most appropriate choice for her.

I have not covered every scenario. Another post will be required. In the meantime, how much do you agree with me?


Qaoileann said...
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Qaoileann said...
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Wendy Lyon said...

A woman forced to delay or inhibit a desire to start a family for financial reasons has not made a choice, she has been denied one.

I understand what you mean here, but I think it's a dangerous argument which opens up a door for anti-abortionists to walk right into. And indeed, if you look at the American debate, some are already walking into it. "She didn't really choose the abortion, it was forced on her." Well, everyone's against forced abortions, aren't they? There oughtta be a law!

Choices aren't always made in the most ideal of circumstances; some are more constrained than others. But I think we need to be careful about stripping away women's capacity to decide that Bad Choice A is better than Bad Choice B. In the end, it simply plays right into the hands of those who think that women need the choice made for them.

Qaoileann said...

Good start!

I would reference where you are getting the 'famous violinist' argument from, though: it's Judith Jarvis Thompson's 1971 essay "A Defence of Abortion", I presume? http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

Also it's an important point that consent to sex is not necessarily consent to pregnancy.

Geoff said...

Hi Qaoileann,

You are of course right. I thought I'd linked to the wiki summary, perhaps I lost the link when standardising formatting? Regardless your link is better, I've used that instead.

Geoff said...

Hi Wendy,

You raise a good point, and my inner devil's advocate notes that, as worded, I consider fining pregnant women anti choice and rewarding mothers to be pro choice. A mitigating factor is that child benefit can of course be declined, but regardless it needs to be more tightly written and perhaps tweaked. I appreciate the constructive criticism and will give it a shot this evening.

Naomi said...

I am very much pro-choice, especially in circumstances of pregnancy through rape or if the mother has found out the feotus will not be viable after birth. I am still pro-choice but am very much saddened by abortion as birth control;everything is 'over-sexualised' you hear 4 yr olds singing pop songs about being sexy and we wonder why teenagers end up pregnant!In these cases it is still the girls/womans choice that they have to live with for a lifetime either way - no one else should make that choice for them.

Aisling said...

Until the old violinist argument was wheeled out I was with you.

I, as an individual, can see someone drowning and not save them. That is not an offence, it is very difficult to commit an offence by omission. But if I'm acting as a life guard then arguably failing to save the person is criminal.

I, as an individual, am not obliged to take personal risk to save another, but I could, wearing a different hat, have such an obligation.

I, as an individual am not obliged to feed a hungry child. Were I the parent of such a child I would have such an obligation, society would impose on me such an obligation.

As the aunt of such a child while the law and society may impose no such obligation, I would feel a moral obligation.

The violinist example is extremist.

Society through her laws has to deal with balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the collective, and the facts and circumstances of any given case can result in a society imposing and obligation on one set of facts, where it would not do so in another.

This is life.

The violinist argument could equally be put forward as a justification for infanticide, in that a newborn is dependent upon, and potentially a drain on, their parents.

I just think both the violinist and the rape arguments seek to simplify something which is complex into sound bites.

Our law can and does impose an obligation to take risks with their health and life on people (usually by reference to their profession, occasionally by reference to their relationship). Society has to have rules.

Each crisis pregnancy is a tragedy, a human tragedy. Each should be considered on its own merits.

I'm pro choice in many of these cases, I just reach that conclusion by a route which does not require analogies with kidnap or rape, which does not require me to hold an absolute position, but to allow the proper consideration of each case on its own facts and circumstances.

Unknown said...

"The violinist argument could equally be put forward as a justification for infanticide, in that a newborn is dependent upon, and potentially a drain on, their parents."

No, a newborn is dependent upon, and a a potential drain on, one or several adults who take care of it. If a newborn's biological parents die or leave it it can be taken care of by other people. The same doesn't apply for a foetus. It's biological functions are dependent on the woman in which it exists.

Aisling said...

Unknown Both the violinist argument on the pro-choice side, and the infanticide argument on the pro-life side are examples of extreme "thought experiments" or the reduction to absurdity of the other side's arguments.

Both sides can do it, it does not make it right.

Extreme "thought experiments" can be conceived to support almost any position, does not mean that we should base our laws on them.

If, I was hungry and there was no money and I had not possibility to get money, and my family were starving I would have to steal bread. So abolish the law against theft?

The law is a little more nuanced, defences like "necessity" or "duress", or indeed "self defence" exist so that we can continue to prohibit those offences which society views as wrong, while having the flexibility to deal with the hard cases.

Wendy Lyon said...

I think your analogies are flawed. The lifeguard's duty arises from a contractual obligation, having entered into that obligation when they agreed to become a lifeguard. A person who did not agree to become a lifeguard in the first place would not be under the duties of a lifeguard.

The familial duty is of a totally different nature, but even then it's limited. A parent is obliged to provide their child food, clothing and shelter, and reasonable care for their well-being. But I can't think offhand of any scenario where they would be obliged to "take risks with their health and life" for them. I don't believe they'd be obliged to donate a kidney, for example.

Aisling said...

Wendy there can be both a contractual duty, but also a possibility of criminal sanctions for failing to act in certain circumstances under the common law, and not only in circumstances where there is a contractual obligation. Familial obligations are one scenario, where the actor created the danger they are obliged to mitigate that danger is another, conduct in times of war is the last (and does entail a risk to health or well being, not that I necessarily agree with it).

Criminal sanctions for omissions are rare, but they exist, just as the defence of necessity is rare, but it does exist.

There are many, many examples of the law being capable of treating different scenarios differently because of their facts e.g. we would not convict an 8 year old of a crime because while we acknowledge that that 8 year old may have committed the crime, we adjudge its youth to render it incapable of criminal action.

My objection to the violinist argument is that it is a reductio ad absurdam.

Let's change the "thought experiment".

Change the violinist for a 6 year old, and the "kidnap victim" for whichever of its parents is a suitable match, and the kidnapper for the law of the land and most of us would struggle far less with the ethical dilemma.

These "thought experiments" and appeals to emotion based on hard cases do nothing to further the debate.

Aisling said...

...and then you read drivel like Declan Ganley's piece in the Indo http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/declan-ganley-its-not-our-right-to-protect-one-life-and-snuff-out-another-on-a-whim-3361477.html where he implies that women are whimsical creatures when it comes to abortion, and ignores that women have any human rights at stake in the argument (despite both the Supreme Court and the ECtHR acknowledging that restricting abortion impinges on a woman's fundamental human rights, they just accepted that restriction as being justified/ proportionate in the circumstances)

Saving innocent babbies from the whims of women Ggrrr

Why is this debate doomed to straw man arguments? Why can't we discuss a reasonable regime which seeks to balance the two potentially conflicting rights?

Wendy Lyon said...

It was criminal sanctions I was talking about. The only reason they would exist for a lifeguard is because of their contractual employment obligations, otherwise it would not be an offence for them to omit to save someone from drowning.

You still haven't given an example of when a person would be obliged to risk their own life to save a family member.

As for "why can't we talk about trying to balance competing rights", that presumes that there are competing rights to balance. I don't accept that a foetus has any independent rights.

Aisling said...

Wendy, because most parents would risk life and limb to save their child there have been no court cases on this to date in either Ireland or the UK that I am aware of, but if a callous reckless parent endangered their children's lives one can infer from Instan, Stone & Dobson and Miller that a parent not taking a risk to themselves for the protection of their offspring would be criminal.

You don't view the foetus as having any rights until when? Birth?

I struggle with that analysis, I really do. I think it has rights, just that those rights are in many cases junior to the rights of the woman. They're certainly not equal, and I'd think they are pretty limited in the first trimester, and pretty important later on as sentience and viability thresholds are passed.

But they're never equal to the rights of the woman.

Should a doctor be able to deliver at 24 weeks due to pre-eclampysia? Of course. Should he be able to "kill" rather than deliver a healthy 24 week foetus, no.

But the logic that gets me here is the balancing of conflicting rights, and it is the same logic that allows me defend being pro-choice from pro-life campaigners who insist that the pro-choice lobby would kill healthy babies.

We look at the rights, we give them weights, and we compare them as we do with all rights. Your right to life trumps my right to protect my property (in any sane society so I'm excluding Ireland here), Marie Fleming's right to privacy tragically gets trumped by society's right to protect its vulnerable (although I think we could do better there too if our legislature would just grasp that humane nettle).

A pre-term delivery of a potentially viable foetus of e.g. 24 weeks should be possible where there's a threat to the woman's life, where there is a significant threat to her health, but not where there is a threat to her social life for example.

I mean did you read Ganley's piece? We have to take his "whimsey" arguments off the table.

Wendy Lyon said...

if a callous reckless parent endangered their children's lives one can infer from Instan, Stone & Dobson and Miller that a parent not taking a risk to themselves for the protection of their offspring would be criminal.

One can infer no such thing. There was no risk to Instan, Stone or Dobinson; there was no element of self-preservation in their own failure to act. The decisions might well have gone differently if there had been. As for Miller, it's arguable whether there was really any such element either, but the crucial point in his case was that he had actually created the dangerous situation.

You don't view the foetus as having any rights until when? Birth?

Until it ceases to be a foetus which, yes, is at birth.

Aisling said...

I combined Instan and Miller, you distinguished them separately. Combined the arguments are much more persuasive and we await the tragic Philpott case to see which of us is right in their inference.

So, how on earth do you distinguish between a 28 week foetus in uteros having no rights as respect its medical treatment, from that same foetus 20 minutes later and post cesarean section, having full rights with respect of its doctors?

What happens if the doctors injure the foetus mid way through the procedure - does it have rights or not? If the doctor is reckless what is the charge?

Wendy Lyon said...

You can combine as many cases as you want. If none of them concern an accused who omitted to put their own life at risk to save a relative from a danger not of their making, then none of them support your contention that such an omission would be criminal.

As for the Philpotts, they're accused of setting their own house on fire with their children inside it. How on earth you think that puts them in a league with someone who simply omits to save their children is beyond me.

I distinguish a foetus from a baby because one is inside another person's body and one isn't. That's not so difficult. I think your last question is precisely one of those "appeals to emotion based on hard cases" you objected to earlier, but if a precise cut-off point is needed I'm content to allow that cut-off point be whatever point is normally used to determine "birth".

Unknown said...

when does a foetus have rights.....interesting issues! Just to wade in...no foetus/baby/child could press charges against his/her doctors - parents would have to do that. I'm sure if a doctor injured a baby while delivering it the charge would be pretty similar to injuring the mother while delivering the baby i.e. negligence or malpractice.

As far as a foetus having rights is concerned though I'm really not sure what rights can be given to a foetus beyond the right to life. Certainly most other human rights (or children's rights) don't apply. And as we know giving a foetus the right to life can compromise the rights of the woman carrying it.

Attempts to illustrate this compare the situation to one where a person is forced to give up a kidney to save another person's life (or the violinist scenario above).

On the other hand, I am reluctant to deny a foetus any rights. It does seem strange that a full term baby could be killed as long as it hasn't actually been born yet while a less developed premature baby has all the protection that any person has under the law.

I would wonder then should a viable foetus have a right to be delivered/born?

Just a thought......

Aisling said...

The Philpotts are being charged with the involuntary manslaughter of their children, either for endangering them, or failing to save them, or more likely both. Since gross negligence manslaughter would seem easier to prove than constructive manslaughter given it would allow the CPS two bites at the same cherry, one would assume that it the way that they would go. The coming months will tell.

I don't for one moment think it was an appeal to emotion based on hard cases. It was a question, does the foetus, in your opinion, have rights against a third party at that moment in time, and you answered that you don't believe that it does.

Kids get injured during delivery all the time, frequently not through any malpractice on the part of the doctors, and generally they are modest injuries sustained during a difficult birth. I would think that if the injuries were significant, and the doctor at fault, that the foetus rather than just the mother has rights.

You disagree but are entirely consistent in your position.

End of argument.

Unknown said...

Aisling, if the newborn baby has a right to health/bodily integrity/not be injured by the doctors delivering it that makes perfect sense. It can't, however, have an absolute right to these things when still unborn. Otherwise we could imprison women who smoke, drink, don't eat healthily, undertake risky activities, forget folic acid supplements (and so on) when pregnant.

Aisling said...

Lorraine, I've never argued that it does have absolute rights against the woman, I think at all times its rights are junior to the fundamental rights of the woman for precisely the reasons you outlined (and one could potentially add drinking tea with the suggestion that caffeine can harm the foetus yet I suspect that every living Irish person was subjected to second hand tea in utero).

I just think that it has rights and that those rights get stronger as it gets nearer becoming a viable person. Granting full rights to two cells, or denying any rights to a 38 week old foetus are equally absurd propositions to my mind.

But at no stage should the foetus have an equal right to life or health as against the woman who is carrying it, not until it can make its own way in the world.

By the way, under current Irish law a foetus/ baby injured during delivery has rights. It does not matter that the parents sue (because the child is a minor and cannot) the compensation beneficially belongs to the child. The parents could not blow it on fast cars and fancy holidays, it must be spent to care for the child. If the foetus has no rights, and thus the only rights impacted were those of the woman, she would be free to spend the compensation on what she wanted (albeit we would expect her to spend it on caring for the child).

Unknown said...

As I said, I'm just wondering what rights an unborn baby can have. The baby injured during delivery is born and has the rights of a born person. But what rights can a foetus reasonably have? This is an issue no-one has actually discussed.

Pro-life groups simply advocate a right to life regardless of how it compromises the woman's rights. The declaration of human rights states that people are "born" equal in rights and the exercising of one person's rights cannot deny another's rights.

So no "born person" has a right to life even if it compromises someone else's right to life. A child also does not have the same rights as an adult.

I know you have not said that an unborn baby's rights should ever be given priority over the rights of the woman carrying it, but I am interested in hearing what absolute rights you believe a foetus can have.

Wendy Lyon said...

Aisling, the Philpotts are being charged with involuntary manslaughter over the deaths of their children in a fire which they are believed to have started. They didn't merely fail to save them, they (allegedly) started the fire and then failed to save them, as per Miller. Find me a case where a parent was charged with manslaughter for not going into a burning building to save their child from a fire which they had nothing to do with.

Qaoileann said...

Lorraine, that is in fact happening in the US in states which have 'foetal personhood' laws.
Women have been charged for having miscarriages, for attempting suicide, and for exercising their right to bodily integrity by e.g.: refusing a c-section.





Jill said...

Words matter. For someone interested in positive discussion your definition of pro choice almost fully shuts that down. Also, I'm sure there are a few lunatics, but the vast majority of prolife people have no desire to have society regular women's reproductive cycles. I certainly could care less.

It's interesting to me how different this discussion is approached by myself - an American, where legal abortion up until "viability" (generally speaking) has been the norm since 8 years prior to my birth, and most of you - living in a country where abortion is considered only in the most dire of circumstances. I'd be lying if I didn't say my circumstances color my approach. Using the last available CDC data from 2009:
784,507 abortions (rate 15.1%)
91.7% done under 13 weeks
85% are in unmarried women
44.7% of had at least one previous abortion
15.5% of all abortions are in adolescents aged 15-19
12 deaths reported from legal abortion
Black women have the highest rates of abortion, Hispanic the lowest
Regardless of your thoughts on abortion, I'd hope you agree that we're doing it wrong.

Good statistics are hard to come by given the shame surrounding much of this, but it seems more than safe to say that the vast majority of abortions in the US, likely around 95%, are for social reasons - lack of money, lack of support, concern about society reaction, not ready, etc. With all due respect to the difficulty of the decision for an individual woman, something I take quite seriously, it is back up birth control. I made this point to someone on twitter the other night and he took offense, not liking how I was “characterizing it.” Let me be clear: I support sexual education, I support easily accessible contraception, I support men and women making their own decisions about their sexual relationships, but I also without question support them taking responsibility when their choices result in pregnancy.


Jill said...

Of course, I agree with you on the “simple stuff.” In my country we do very little to this end. Sadly, we have pro-life people scoring unwed mothers for their sexual promiscuity and pro-choice people scoring them for ruining their careers. We do little to financially support the unfortunate here and abortion has not decreased child poverty levels like it was thought it would when being argued for in the 1970s. It has not decreased child abuse either. There is a good argument to be made that further welfare funds are not necessary because we have this other solution.

Now to the hard stuff.
I agree there should be clarity in the Irish law about when doctors can and cannot directly or indirectly kill the fetus. By direct abortion, I mean the intentional and direct killing of the fetus by medical or surgical intervention. By indirect abortion, I mean a medical or surgical intervention designed to save the life or guard the health of the mother than results in the death of the fetus.
I cannot think of any medical circumstances where a direct abortion is ever necessary to save a woman’s life or to guard her health. I have no idea what the doctor’s in Peru were doing; from the situation as you presented it their actions do not seem defensible. However, it’s important to point out that the young girl did not require a direct abortion - that would do nothing to improve her spinal cord injury. I read in multiple respected news sources that the young girl in the Dominican Republic suffering from acute leukemia was denied a “life-saving abortion.” What a dangerous misrepresentation.
Some will argue of course why it matters if the outcome is the same. I do not believe the ends justify the means in general, but certainly not in medicine. Intent is everything, and the intent, in my opinion, should always be in the name of health and life. In my country, we still take an oath to this end before receiving our degrees.

I completely agree that mental health is actually just health. I too am concerned about throwbacks to a previous disconcerting era - one where we undertook dangerous and invasive procedures on our patients without any evidence they were helpful. These days we practice evidence based medicine, and there is no evidence abortion is a “treatment” for suicide ideation.


Jill said...

I appreciate Aisling’s comments on pregnancy without consent. What a horrific, heart-breaking situation. How can I say a person who is raped must carry an unwanted pregnancy to term? I recognize it makes me appear callous and controlling. What I maintain though is that the fetus is a life, worthy of all the rights we afford any other person. Thus, to be intellectually consistent the circumstances of conception do not matter, other than to say as a fellow citizen these women would have every support I could possibly give them. The same thinking for me applies to fatal fetal abnormalities, although I agree with Aisling that this is actually a euthanasia discussion.

While I am a prolife purist so to speak (I believe that was how Aisling characterized), I am certainly able to understand the there are good people who would disagree with me for good reasons in these difficult circumstances. Yet I live in a country where the reality is, the vast majority of abortions are not for the above difficult circumstances. I make no judgement on the depth of thought any woman gives to this decision. I simply cannot imagine. I do know that here abortion is presented as one choice of many, it is considered to be safe and acceptable, it is argued by many to be the best choice when the situation is not as ideal as might otherwise be hoped. Can we really argue that in this atmosphere, not even mentioning the abuses by many in the name of the pro-life agenda, and in making this decision so quickly, that women are making their choice without undue influence? Anecdotal evidence is never meant to be proof but merely support: I have never met a patient who regret giving birth; I have met far too many who regret their abortion.

If I may give one word of sincere caution Geoff, in light of your comments about recently changing your stances: don’t let the allure of argument and activism (two things I personally love) cloud your judgement. If you decide you agree with on-demand abortion be clear that those cases are not like what you discussed here.

Aisling said...

Ah Wendy, my original point was that the law can and does distinguish and then you engaged in an argument as to what criminal law currently is, confused with an ethical debate about what it ought to be.

If we stick to the law as is (when we were meant to be discussing the law as it ought to be and I admit I engaged on that spurious basis) the threat to the foetus is the mother and thus Miller combined with Instan back up existing Irish law (which we both agree does not conform to our view as to what the law ought to be).

My original point was just that the law can and does make allowances for different facts and circumstances, imposing different burdens on different people. A general point relevant to the discussion of what the law ought to be rather than a specific debate on the British manslaughter laws.

Lorraine, very few rights are absolute. That's a myth. The burgler who breaks into my house has a right to life, but if out of fear I clobber him over the head with a cast iron frying pan and kill him, so long as my behavior was not entirely unreasonable the law determines that my right to protect myself (and stupidly in my opinion, my property) means that his right to life is moot.

Freedom of religion is a right yet courts can and do deny Jehovah's Witness parents, the right to deny their child a blood transfusion (in breach of their religion).

Rights are relative things, not absolute. The existence of a right does not necessarily mean that you have any mechanism for enforcing that right as illustrated so beautifully in both the C and D cases on Irish abortion law before the ECtHR.

So the foetus can have a right to life, relative to the life AND HEALTH of the woman, including her mental health. I really can't see a problem with that.

Just because that foetus has a lofty aspirational right does not mean that we need to defend that right with criminal sanctions for all cases (as the law is now).

Discriminating against someone based on their religion is not a crime, it is a civil wrong in many cases, but not a crime. Attacking them based on their religion would be a crime, and the level of sanctions would depend on what I actually did.

Unknown said...

that is pretty much my point. circumstances as you say can cause a persons right to life to become moot.

A foetus, by the nature of its existence, threatens the life and health of the woman carrying it. most women happily risk both out of a desire to have children. It could be argued though that the essentially parasitic nature of a foetus negates its right to life.

sleepysloth said...

i came across your blog as i was looking for material to write on for a short "Pro-Choice VS. Pro-Life" paper i had to write for my morality class and i just wanted to say that i found your post very interesting. i haven't read any of the other comments to know how others feel about your post but it has given me food for thought. i appreciate you writing this and i hope you have a wonderful life. :)

Billy Squibs said...
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Billy Squibs said...

I strongly disagree with you Geoff. From the outset you have not presented an accurate account of the pro-life position. This is regrettable. I'll briefly explain why in a moment. Additionally, while I realise that mutually agreeable labels can be tricky to find, you have - intentionally or not - poisoned the well by defining the pro-life movement as "anti-choice".

OK, so on to my sticking point. It took you a grand total of 115 words to go astray and misrepresent your opponents objections to abortion. In my experience, the pro-life movement is concerned with the life of the unborn, not with the reproductive cycle of women. That's it. (Though I suppose there will always be outliers.) If the unborn is simply a "clump of cells" as you say - much in the same way a flak of skin is simply a "clump of cells" - then I would suggest that we should actively seek to remove the stigma surrounding abortions by encouraging abortions much in the same way as we would any form of elective surgery. If the unborn is simply a "clump of cells", then it's destruction is as morally significant as getting a tooth pulled.

However, we have now reached our impasse. Firstly, you beg the question when you refer to the unborn as merely a "clump of cells". That regrettable phrase has rhetorical flurry in so much as it has dehumanising power. But the problem is that it doesn't move the discussion along. You are a clump of cells, Goeff. Such a crude statement tells me nothing about your worth as a human and whether you have any inalienable rights at all. (Herein lies a dilemma for you which I can address at another point if you are interested.)

Secondly, and leading directly from the first objection, the contention of the pro-life movement (and I'm speaking from a US context here) is that the unborn is a human being and a person and as such is deserving of life. This is why the movement self-defines as the pro-life movement rather then the pejorative "anti-choice" movement. (This is the primary focus of the movement and much more could be said on the arguments for the humanness and person-hood of the unborn.)

If the unborn is a human person then you are going to have to go to extraordinary lengths to justify abortion, specifically elective abortion. This is because it takes considerable justification - or it should take considerable justification - to end the life of another human. If you want to know why this might be all you need do is simply replace the term "the unborn" with a toddler and see how well your arguments for the death of the toddler work. I would think that in most cases - possibly with the exception of Thompson's thought experiment (which has it's own weaknesses) - your arguments are severely undercut. Why? Because the majority of your arguments rest on the assumed inhumaneness of the unborn - hence the term "clump of cells". But that is the very thing under debate.

Perhaps you made amends in a later post Geoff. Sadly, in this post I don't think that you have not gone to any great length to either accurately represent your opponent's position or present their best arguments.