I recently got into a debate with a pro-life Catholic on Google +. It’s still going on after a few days and I thought it worth posting here, with editing only for clarification. Note that this pro-life partisan has been very reasonable for the most part, especially considering the difficulty of the topic. The graphic below was the post that inspired our conversation.
The PL tag marks the pro-lifer’s words while the Chris tag marks my pro choice input.
PL: So, killing infants once they are born because that’s your choice?
Hey, it’s just between the woman and the doctor or midwife, right?
Pro-choice is just a euphemism because the reality is too ugly.
Chris: What exactly are you talking about, PL? I suspect you want to impose your morality over all women, regardless of the truth, but I’m interested in hearing your justification for it.
Once a child is born, abortion is no longer relevant. Do you understand that? The pro choice movement is strictly concerned with women’s rights, the right to bodily autonomy. There are no sinister hidden agendas.
PL: As I said above, the line when life is protected and when it’s not is arbitrary.
Roe V Wade allowed for state restrictions on Third and even Second Trimester abortions as “bodily autonomy” wasn’t the issue, privacy was. Once the pregnancy became obvious, it’s no longer a privacy issue.
Subsequent Court decisions have weakened, but not removed the ability to restrict abortions, so it’s still not “bodily autonomy” that’s the issue.
As we’re learning from the PP videos, they are actually killing babies born alive, with hearts still beating, from botched abortions and harvesting them for parts.
And, yes, babies do survive abortions.
Chris: Are you referring to the videos created by the right wing propagandists and discredited almost immediately, or another set of videos?
The Supreme Court rules on a Constitutionally relevant component of an issue. The abortion issue in the United States is about bodily autonomy for women.
The line between protected and non protected “life” will always be arbitrary, because life itself is an idea based on an individual’s metaphysical system. We’re never going to all agree on when life begins, because we have different metaphysical ideas underlying our definition of life. The self proclaimed pro-life camp is not uniform, but generally defines life based on Western monotheistic ideas, not scientific facts.
PL: I don’t think the CMP videos have been discredited.
Abortion can’t be absolutely prohibited in any State due to Supreme Court rulings. You may think it’s about “bodily autonomy”, but the ruling is based on privacy rights.
The Science is that a zygote is alive, distinct genetically from the mother and father. It’s a human being at the earliest stage of development.
“Western monotheistic ideas” are not required.
Chris: Science will say that a human zygote is alive in the same way any product of sexual reproduction is alive. A zygote is not necessarily human or even the result of a multicellular organism – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygote – and a zygote resulting from human reproduction won’t necessarily develop into a human baby. If you’ve looked into this issue, you’re probably aware that many zygotes fail to develop into babies for a number of natural reasons. The pro-life camp is concerned specifically with human life and there is no science proclaiming that a zygote is a human life. Good scientists recognize that the distinction is metaphysical, belonging to another domain. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you are concerned exclusively with human life in this instance. Science can correctly say, at most, that a fully functional human zygote has the potential to develop into a human baby, given the proper environment and time.
You don’t seem capable of seeing beyond your Catholic metaphysics. Without the default stance that a human life begins at conception (for some reasonable definition of conception), the pro life demands make little sense considering the interest of the woman in living a life unconstrained by pregnancy.
You can maintain the integrity of the discredited videos if you like. Legally, they are fraudulent and carry no weight.
The pro choice moral argument is based largely on female bodily autonomy. I’ve studied the issues and positions of both sides and determined that in order for a woman to have full control of her destiny, full personhood, she must have full bodily autonomy. Hence she must have the right to choose abortion.
PL: Everyone has the potential to develop further or have their life ended at every stage of development. The zygote is no different than any other stage of development in this respect, although perhaps in a more precarious position. A fully developed 7 to 9 month fetus has a very good chance of further development, similar to the chances of development of a newborn.
I’ll repeat myself. The primary difference with regard to their humanity between a fertilized egg and an adult is stage of development.
This is the Science, it has nothing to do with “Catholic metaphysics”.
Listen to that video I posted above, Biologists agree that this is the Scientific stand.
Fully functional has nothing to do with it. We don’t cease being human if we lose functionality.
Rights come into conflict. There’s no absolute right to bodily autonomy. Here’s a list of a few ways that bodily autonomy is placed secondary to other rights:
You might claim this “bodily autonomy” argument, but it’s not recognized as an absolute right.
There’s nothing “legally fraudulent” about the CMP videos. They are as valid as any investigative journalism. More than most, because the full unedited videos are available.
Chris: I don’t have time to watch videos, particularly those created by a religious group with a strong interest in telling followers what to think. You will be unable to point to a scientific source that supports your claims because your claims are philosophical, belonging to the realm of metaphysics, as any good scientist knows. Science has well defined boundaries. Among other things, it doesn’t deal in non-testable, non-falsifiable assertions.
As I said, you appear unable to see outside your Catholic metaphysics. The fact that scientifically literate people who don’t share your metaphysical stance (e.g. atheists like myself) don’t see “the primary difference with regard to their humanity between a fertilized egg and an adult” as being the stage of development should tell you that your view is not based on science.
You are moving the goalposts a bit. We were just talking about a zygote and you seem to have acknowledged that’s an indefensible position, notwithstanding your propaganda video, and moved to considering “a fully developed 7 to 9 month fetus”. I’ll agree that a fully developed third trimester fetus has a good chance of being viable outside the mother and not being naturally aborted by internal processes. I’ll go further and say that it’s reasonable to argue that the state has an interest in protecting that fetus from outside harm. We will probably disagree on the nature of the state’s interest. That interest must be weighed against the state’s interest in protecting the woman’s autonomy.
I didn’t claim that bodily autonomy is an absolute right. It’s a human right, an acknowledged necessity for living a full life. The question is whether a zygote, or a fetus, has more right to its continued existence than a woman has to her autonomy. I consider that the basic moral argument for this situation, and I believe the woman’s right is well defined as essential and must be protected, whereas the zygote or fetus is not a person and has no inherent right to continued existence.
PL: I’m not moving the goalposts, I’m making an inductive argument. The likelihood that life will continue to develop at any point is irrelevant to the fact that life is present.
What “scientifically literate” people argue that life doesn’t begin at conception?
Don’t argue with me about when life begins, argue with these Scientists:
I find this particularly ironic:
It’s a human right, an acknowledged necessity for living a full life.
What right is more necessary to living a full life than life itself?
You argue that a zygote or fetus is not a person is entirely a philosophical one. You could arbitrarily say that any human being didn’t have an inherent right to continued existence.
Chris: Most of the quotes in your link say nothing about when life begins. It’s very telling that none of your links are science sources. It’s almost as if good scientists don’t want to be seen taking a stand on an issue outside the domain of science.
You keep dropping the “human” aspect of this discussion, likely because it complicates matters further for you. But it’s essential, because pro-life people are concerned with “human” life, human persons as it’s generally put by the pro-life lobby. Humans, like other mammalian bodies, are not so much discrete individuals as complex systems composed of collections of organisms behaving (mostly) symbiotically. That’s a scientific fact. What is it that makes a human being a human and when does a sperm and egg, arguably alive themselves but with very limited potential on their own, become a human person? There’s a Catholic answer, which you’re apparently following, but non Catholics have no need to agree with it.
Your perception of my statement on autonomy as a human right is ironic only because you’ve decided that zygotes and fetuses have at least as much right to continued existence as the woman they inhabit.
Here’s a brief list of points when it makes sense to declare life as beginning. Notice that the scientist doesn’t take a firm stand. This is written by an actual scientist, who’s also a bioethicist.
Here’s a decent source for discussion of when life begins. It’s a non-theistic source.
Ultimately, this will come to an impasse, because you are unable to see that your perspective is based on your Catholic beliefs and I’m unwilling to accept your claim about zygotes and fetuses being human persons with rights of their own. Both are philosophical stances.
PL: Most of the quotes in your link say nothing about when life begins.
Most? Really? I didn’t count them, but I do see that many of them do.
They are all quotes from Scientists, giving the Scientific view.
Here’s some more quotes from Scientists from a non-theistic source, if you are interested:
Yes, these are all people on one side of the argument collecting these quotes. So what? Who put up the web page says nothing about the validity of the argument being made.
Your perception of my statement on autonomy as a human right is ironic only because you’ve decided that zygotes and fetuses have at least as much right to continued existence as the woman they inhabit.
Talk about moving the goal posts. I don’t think the fetus has as much right as the continued existence of the woman they inhabit. But, a life she called into being by a willful act has some claim on her convenience, I think.
Your Scientist and your Rationalwiki are all making Philosophical points, not Scientific ones.
One of the “life points” the biologist argues for in the article is pubescence. I guess we’ll be seeing people claim that pre-pubescent humans don’t have life in the same sense as adults and can be terminated because they constitute an inconvenience on the parents (who do have full rights).
I agree that it’s ultimately a philosophical stand who has rights to life. Others have recognized that the pro-choice position is arbitrary. We’re pushing back who gets the right and who doesn’t all the time. Now, there are philosophers like Peter Singer arguing against the infant’s right to life.
Here’s a good article on how Science Fiction author Philip K. Dick came to that realization back in 1974. It also brings up the slope we’re sliding down I mention above.
Chris: I read the text at the Princeton link and they are not taking a stand on human life per se. They are using medical terminology to describe stages in a process. None make a claim about human life that’s usable to argue about abortion. In fact, the acknowledgement that life is a continuous process and the careful avoidance of making metaphysical claims illustrates my point about the metaphysical definition of human life as human personhood. After all, that’s the crux of the pro-life argument, that a human person is created at conception and that this person has rights.
Pardon me if I erroneously believed that you consider a fetus to have the same rights as a woman. If you’re not arguing that an embryo or fetus is a human person, with equal rights to a woman, then on what basis do you support the pro-life stance?
All the arguments in favor of and against abortion are ultimately philosophical, not scientific. Philosophy, in this case ethics and metaphysics, provides the structure we need to give meaning to the physical structures and relations provided by science.
This is not an issue that will ever be universally settled. Given my current understanding of human life and human rights, I support the granting of human personhood, and rights, to infants as soon as they’re born. I’m dissatisfied with this stance, but I think it’s the best balance given what I know.
PL: Pardon me if I erroneously believed that you consider a fetus to have the same rights as a woman. If you’re not arguing that an embryo or fetus is a human person, with equal rights to a woman, then on what basis do you support the pro-life stance?
The way you worded it earlier, the fetus has as much right to life as the woman. I’d say they have similar rights to life. We’re arguing here if the fetus’ right to life is more important than the woman’s right to bodily autonomy.
The argument when human life begins is not philosophical, the only philosophical argument is what life deserves protection.
Chris: The key point that people often dance around is that a developing human embryo is not necessarily a human person, with defined rights. The question of when life begins is far from a settled issue, but it’s not something we’re going to make progress on here. The question is whether and when the cell(s) that result from human reproduction become a human being, a legal person.
I believe that all sentient life deserves protection, to include human and non human. I think the minimum we owe sentient beings is to abstain from causing them to suffer. I became a vegetarian many years ago for ethical reasons when I was thinking through issues like this. Animals cannot have rights because rights involve responsibilities, which requires understanding. This leads to some ethical difficulties, but it’s the best I’ve come up with. Animal welfare is a major focus of mine, and I see human beings as existing along a continuum with the other animals. All that can suffer deserve at least that we not cause them suffering. If we can’t help them, we should at least not hurt them.
Given the above stance, I require that we not cause a developing embryo to suffer. There are studies on when a fetus has developed sufficiently to sense pain. Before that point, I see no reason not to grant the woman free access to abortion if she wishes it. After that point, it becomes more difficult, because we must ensure that the fetus does not suffer. I find discussion of this aspect of abortion reasonable and medicine can contribute to the discussion.
PL: Yes, it’s clear that an embryo is not a “legal person” in this country.
A Jew wasn’t a “legal person with rights” in NAZI Germany, either.
I still think that the primary difference between a young fetus and an adult is stage of development.
But, at least we can agree on something. A ban on abortions after 20 weeks, then? They are legal in much of the country today.
But, can we extend killing to any other human life that we find doesn’t deserve protection as long as they are properly anesthetized? That seems like it would be a logical consequence of your stand.
Chris: I don’t support banning abortion at all. I do support requiring anesthesia for the fetus if there’s a chance it could suffer. The evidence I’ve seen indicates that it’s far later than 20 weeks before pain can be perceived.
I don’t think it’s helpful to compare Nazi Germany and Jews to abortion.
In theory, we could extend killing to any human life, but in practice our society would not choose this path. Almost everyone agrees that a human being, once born, is in a class of protected life, a legal person and citizen. It’s hard to see us returning to a state where some citizens have less inherent value. Of course, we treat some life (non citizens) as lesser life in practice.
I find abortion morally repugnant, but I’m primarily interested in reducing abortion by enabling every woman to have excellent access to contraception, education, and health care, removing the stigma of open female sexuality, and treating women as full human beings who are capable of making all decisions regarding their bodies.
PL: The evidence I’ve seen is that pain can be perceived at 20 weeks.
You are deciding which humans deserve life.
What everyone agrees is not necessary right. That’s just a formula for denying minority rights.
It’s hard to see us returning to a state where some citizens have less inherent value. Of course, we treat some life (non citizens) as lesser life in practice.
_I find abortion morally repugnant, but I’m primarily interested in reducing abortion by enabling every woman to have excellent access to contraception, education, and health care, removing the stigma of open female sexuality, and treating women as full human beings who are capable of making all decisions regarding their bodies. _
Your solutions to reducing abortion haven’t really panned out. Treating women as full human beings would be holding the fully responsible for the actions they take with their bodies.
Chris: I disagree with you, PL. The states with the most regressive treatment of women and the abstinence only policies tend to have the highest number of unintended pregnancies. Arizona for example requires an abstinence only sticker on biology textbooks, yet has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the nation.
I haven’t heard you mention anything about men’s responsibility not to have sex with women they don’t want to have a child with. In a just society, they would be at least as culpable as women. I also note that there are children available for adoption. If pro-life people were willing to commit to children 100%, they’d give those children loving homes.
Everyone decides what humans deserve life. You and I disagree on the abortion, but if you’re truly pro-life, then we probably agree that we need to fund families so children and adults have good food and education, abolish the death penalty, enact national health care, feed the world’s poor, protect civilians to the extent of our ability during conflicts, reform policing, and intervene in nations that mistreat their citizens. So I suspect we agree on most issues.
I know that banning abortion will not stop abortion, just make it more difficult and less safe, and I don’t think it’s my right to intervene in a woman’s life in such a difficult decision.
PL: Yes, I believe men should not have sex with women with whom they don’t intend to have children, if they are fertile.
There are actually waiting lines for babies for adoption in this country. Many people go internationally to adopt babies because they can’t find them in the US. Older children up for adoption often pose more challenges, but usually Foster care is available. There are very few children in orphanages anymore.
Religious people adopt many children. I know several who have adopted, even special needs children.
Yes, banning abortion won’t stop it, just like banning murder hasn’t eradicated that. We don’t hear calls for making murder safe, legal and rare, though.
Chris: I believe you when you say that you disapprove of men having sex with women they don’t want to have a child with. However, that doesn’t help the current situation much. Women bear the shame and hostility of unintended pregnancy. Men do not for the most part. As the recent Ashley Madison and many other revelations have demonstrated, even the most religious men seem unable to control their desire to have sex outside marriage.
The fact is that there are children without permanent parents in the United States, and no guarantee that a woman who gives birth will be able to hand the infant to a loving family. There are waiting lines for newborn babies, just like people like kittens and puppies.
Most religious people do not adopt children. Some certainly do. I know many religious and non religious people and I don’t see a difference in their adoption rates. In fact, you’re probably aware that non religious people and LGBT people are discriminated against in adoption, generally by the same people who are pro-life activists.
Abortion is not murder, not legally and not philosophically, at least outside your narrow religious beliefs. Comparing the two is unhelpful, just like your earlier comparison to Nazi Germany.
Most pro-life people generally are pro birth Republicans, trying to force women to give birth but then considering their religious duty done and their pro-life work complete. I try to minimize the perceived need for abortion by providing everything a woman needs to avoid becoming unexpectedly pregnant and providing her the means to end an unwanted pregnancy as early as possible. Every pro-choice activist I know has the same goals. Working to make sex education, birth control, and early medical abortion available has resulted in improving women’s lives around the world, and this improves the lives of children as families have the will and means to properly care for them. In summary, I believe my goals, and those of my fellow pro-choice activists, have made a positive difference in the lives of women, children, and families around the world. I don’t see positive results from the pro-life activists.